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What is a Union Bug?

Updated on February 21, 2019
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Heidi Thorne is the author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business.


A union bug is a little graphic that is printed on a product or used in communications to identify the unionized group of individuals who produced a product or service. The bug will show to what union the group belongs, as well as the local/regional group (usually referred to as a "local") in which it holds membership.

The bug is an announcement to the world that the organization offering these products or services participates in collective bargaining labor contracts with their workers. This assures buyers that workers are receiving fair negotiated wages and working conditions.

Similar to historical trade and craft guilds, unions may require members to meet various qualifications or go through apprentice training programs. For these types of work, a product with a union bug could also assure buyers that products and services were produced by people who have achieved a certain level of skill in the field.

Though unions can be international, unions are common in the United States since the country has a strong commitment to fair labor standards and worker protections.

So why is this important?

With horror stories of sweatshop labor and conditions hitting the news, buyers have heightened concerns that they may, by purchasing certain goods, be unknowingly supporting these unacceptable or unethical situations. This is especially problematic when it comes to promotional products or branded merchandise. So choosing a union produced good can provide some assurances that fair labor practices were employed.

For organizations with corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, using union produced goods and services can be one way to demonstrate their commitment to fair trade and fair labor.

Who Cares About a Union Bug?

Some of the groups who have traditionally been interested in purchasing and using union produced products and services include:

  • Unions (obviously!), union affiliated associations and their members.
  • Organizations, such as government agencies and the trades, which have union work forces.
  • Political organizations and candidates.
  • Nonprofits.
  • Vendors who serve unions and/or their members.

This is particularly the case when it comes to promotional products. For example, many political candidates will only use union made signs, buttons and other campaign promotional items in order to show support for their union constituents.

Union Bug Dos and Don'ts

In order to be eligible to apply a union bug to products or communications, a company's workers must vote in favor of and become members of a local union group. Then a labor contract is negotiated with the employing company. As one might expect, this is a major effort and is not taken lightly.

Once the company's workforce is unionized, the company will then be given permission to show its union affiliation by using the bug on the products and services it produces.

So using the union bug has some significant rules that must be observed:

  • Producers Only. The bug can only be used for goods and services that are produced, in some way, by a union shop. It cannot be used by the purchaser of a union made good or service; only the producer is allowed to use it.
  • Due Diligence. When purchasing union made promotional products, always verify the union status and local who made and/or imprinted them. If the vendor cannot provide or verify this information, look for another vendor who can.
  • The Proof in the Proof. Ask for a pre-production proof of final artwork showing the placement of the union bug on the finished piece. This proof should be prepared by the manufacturer for the product, NOT a promotional product distributor or graphic designer.

Did you know what a union bug was before reading this article?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


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