Friday, June 26, 2015
Look For The Union Label
When I was still working I was a union steward. I will tell you more about that but first I will tell you that I know the good side and the bad side of unions.
Unions are organizations designed to help workers obtain better working conditions from their employers. Some of these include fair pay, reasonable time limitations of hours worked, fairness of discipline and treatment in the work place, seniority rights, freedom from fear of dismissal without cause, and a grievance system to address problems in the work place.
In order to guarantee the working conditions the union and employer negotiate a contract which is either ratified by a vote of the workers or denied in the same way. Once an agreement is reached it is filed in the courts and becomes a legal document. Infringement of the rules set forth in the contract is a violation of the court.
Some of the things I feel are wrong with unions are that some have become as authoritarian as the employers they were designed to deal with. Some union officials make more money than officers of the companies. This money is paid from the dues collected from the workers.
Some unions do not fairly represent the employees who pay their wages. Some unions and their officials are content to collect salaries as they do little of anything except promote the union.
There are many unions. I will not name any. Locals are subdivisions of a larger union. The locals pay dues to the larger unions in order to have superior strength in larger numbers. These are powerful machines. They have accomplished much good for working people. They have caused problems at times. I am not making a statement for against unions. That is for you to decide for your own circumstances.
I was working in a union shop. I was hired as a part-time worker as was everyone in that store. It was a part of the contract with the union.
I accepted as many hours of work as I could get because that was how I supported myself. I was working at least 36 hours a week that way. Part-time work was 32 hours as stated in the contract. A full-time employee worked 40 hours per week.
As I was reading my contract I saw that if I worked at least 36 hours a week for 16 weeks the store was required to promote me to full time. I kept my mouth shut and after 16 weeks I went to my manager and asked for my promotion. She denied me as I expected.
I went to one of the union stewards for assistance. My store was supposed to have 7 stewards. At that time we had 3.
The first steward I talked to told me that everybody wanted full-time. It would be unfair for me to be promoted before others who hired in before me. She would not file a grievance. I went to another steward.
The new steward was surprised that the contract had a provision to make me full-time. However he did file a grievance. After a couple of weeks of no progress I called the supervisor in charge of several stores in our area. She said she would look into it.
After a couple of weeks I again called her. She no longer worked in my area. I was connected with the new supervisor. She would look into it. I called her in a couple of weeks. After a few months she no longer had my area.
I went through this routine with at least 6 supervisors assigned to my area. After a YEAR I called again because I was afraid that with a lapse of a year with nothing being done they would inform me that too much time had passed and my complaint had expired.
Guess who I talked to. It was the original superviaor! She had just been assigned to our area again. She even remembered my request for help.
"Hasn't this been taken care of yet?" was all she had to say. When she started to tell me that she would check into it I interrupted her.
"What do I have to do to get this taken care of? Do I have to sue the union?"
"OH DON'T DO THAT! Let me call you back."
I was full-time the following week. I should have made the threat earlier.
Someone said that my store needed another union steward. She thought I should apply. I did and was made steward. A union steward is simply an employee of the shop who addresses what workers view as wrongs.
A steward is the person in the workplace who listens to worker's complaints. Then they file a grievance and try to apply the part of the contract that is being violated to deny the worker's rights. The union then talks to management to try to solve the problem.
A steward is also required to attend regular union meetings and training sessions. The president of the local was fond of beginning each session by going around the room to introduce each steward and which store they represented. Then he would ask us why we became a steward.
The altruistic answers often amounted to the Miss Whatever characterization of "World Peace". He would smile and nod.
My turn came. I said that the union had screwed me over and I did not want that to happen to anyone else so I became a steward to try to make a difference.
After he caught his breath he nodded numbly. He stopped asking that question.
I have been a bit of a protester all my life so I enjoyed my activities with the union. I would like to think I accomplished some good.
I like to think that I also instilled a sense of social responsibility in my children. It is important to fight injustice and to help the net guy if he needs it. I think I was successful.
My youngest son was elected committeeman in his work place. That is the union liaison with the stewards. He made the mistake of letting workers have his personal phone number and was being constantly bombarded at home. Other than that he enjoys fighting the good fight.
His son, my oldest grandson, was hired to work in the same shop as my son. After about a year of watching the unfairness that angered him he became a union steward too. He is a black-and-white person. A thing is either right or wrong. Grays have no place in his life. He also enjoys helping theose who feel they cannot help themselves.
Unions came into being because of reprehensible working conditions. Workers banded together to demand better treatment. Because of unions we now have a 40 hour work week and a lot of other provisions to protect workers and their jobs.
While I do not necessarily agree with some of the things unions do or do not do I believe that without them working conditions could rapidly decline into what they once were. What to do? I wish I had the answer.