4 Not-So-Obvious Reasons Why Grievances Are Valuable in the Union Workplace

Virtually every union contract contains a grievance/arbitration procedure, which is the way the union and the employer tackle disagreements about workplace rights covered by the contract.  Filing a grievance is the equivalent of starting a lawsuit: you put in writing what you believe another party has done that is contrary to the law, and what action will be necessary to correct the situation.  If after going through a series of procedural steps the dispute is not resolved, ten the last step of the grievance process – arbitration – is the equivalent of appearing before a judge to argue the case out and obtain a final resolution, one way or the other.

Why Grieve?

The natural inclination is to think about pursuing a grievance only if it looks like it has a reasonably good chance of coming up a winner.  Why file a grievance in the first place, unless your union is determined to take the case all the way to arbitration if the employer doesn’t back down?

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There may be lots of good reasons for a union to file a grievance that doesn’t expect to “win.”

1. Fire a Warning Shot
There are times when it doesn’t make sense to think about fighting the employer to the death on a particular action.  It may just not be worth it to arbitrate a relatively minor erosion of existing working conditions, or what looks like a one-time event.  At the same time, rather than do nothing, a group grievance could serve to put the employer on notice that its action has not gone unnoticed, and that if it tries the same maneuver again, it may well have a serious fight on its hands.

2. Shine a Light
One of the most frustration experiences in the life of a union representative is to hear and employer say; “That’s just you complaining, none of the people you say you represent even care.”  Sometimes it takes a grievance filed by an employee – or two or three or more – to get the employer to acknowledge that a particular problem is real and needs to be addressed.

3. Build a Record
One not entirely humorous definition of paranoia is “a heightened appreciation of reality.”  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw a line between an isolated memo taking you to task for something and the first deadly serious shot in your supervisor’s war against you.  If there may be a suspension or termination action looming in your future, sometimes the wisest course of action is to begin to build a written record in your defense right away.

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4. Forge Employee Unity
It may well be that, for one reason or another, an immediate practical resolution of a particular problem may not be in the cards.  But a grievance – particularly a group grievance – might be just what is needed to start building solidarity among those wronged by a particular supervisor or policy.  If you and others can organize and take a small action, like filing a grievance, this may be the first step toward you and your co-workers later doing whatever it takes to fight – and win on this or a bigger issue.

RELATED: Automate Your Grievance and Arbitration Management Process

YOUR TURN

How have you used your right to file Grievances in the workplace?  What experiences can you share with other Union members?  We want to hear from you… sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds.  And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.

Union Membership Hits New Low

Fewer American workers belong to labor unions than at any time since the government began tracking membership, according to a new report released Thursday.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said just 10.7 percent of American workers were members of labor unions in 2016, down from 11.1 percent the previous year, and down from 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year the bureau collected union statistics. The number of union workers dropped almost every year during the Obama administration.

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“These numbers bear out a trend that’s been underway for some years, and it puts into starker relief the urgency of the moment for labor, now that the Trump administration is in power,” said Joseph McCartin, director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University.

In 27 states, fewer than one in 10 workers are union members. Just 1.6 percent of South Carolina workers are members of labor unions.

On the other end of the spectrum, nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are members of a union, and almost 20 percent of those employed in Hawaii pay union dues.

More than half of the 14.6 million union workers in the nation live in just seven states — California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio.

The long-term decline in union membership comes as the American manufacturing industry has fallen precipitously. The automotive industry alone, once the bedrock of the labor movement, now employs far fewer people than it did during its heyday.

Federal labor laws, first written after the Great Depression and seldom updated thanks to political gridlock, have hurt the union movement, McCartin said.

“We have a labor law that’s 80 years old, that was created for a different economy than the one we have now,” McCartin said. “As the economy changed and the law remained the same, it became increasingly difficult for unions to organize successfully.”

The long-term trend of declining union membership has been accelerated in some states, where Republican-led legislatures have passed so-called right-to-work laws that allow employees to opt out of paying union dues. Twenty-seven states have right-to-work laws on the books, after Kentucky passed a version earlier this year. Two more states, Missouri and New Hampshire, are moving to implement right-to-work laws in current legislative sessions.

Some companies that once employed thousands of union workers are opting to locate new production and manufacturing facilities in right-to-work states. Boeing, which employs tens of thousands of union workers in Washington, opened a new assembly line that builds its 787 aircraft in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, in 2011.

In recent years, Republicans in such states as Wisconsin and Ohio have targeted public employee unions, one of the last remaining bastions of strong labor participation. Just more than 40 percent of local government employees are members of unions, the BLS reported, the highest rate of any industry segment.

Older workers are most likely to be members of unions, while new entrants into the work force are least likely. Just over 14 percent of workers between the ages of 55 and 64 are union members, while just under 10 percent of those between 25 and 34 belong to unions.

YOUR TURN

What do you think we can do to increase Union Membership? We want to hear from you! Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

The Pros to Joining a Labor Union

Thanks to labor unions, wages have improved, the workweek is shorter and the workplace is safer.

However, employers sometimes complain that unions are harmful to business and to the economy. From an employee standpoint, is being a union member beneficial? Here are some pros of union jobs.

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Better wages. The median weekly income of full-time wage and salary workers who were union members in 2010 was $917, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For nonunion workers, it was $717.

More access to benefits. Some 93 percent of unionized workers were entitled to medical benefits compared to 69 percent of their nonunion peers, according to the National Compensation Survey published last year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey represented about 101 million private industry workers and 19 million state and local government employees.

Unmarried domestic partners — same sex and opposite sex — also had access more often to these benefits if they were unionized. Workers with union representation also had 89 percent of their health insurance premiums paid by their employer for single coverage and 82 percent for family coverage. For nonunion workers, the comparable numbers were 79 percent and 66 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And 93 percent of unionized workers have access to retirement benefits through employers compared to 64 percent of their nonunion counterparts.

Job security. Nonunion employees are typically hired “at will,” meaning they can be fired for no reason. There are exceptions. Employers can’t terminate a worker for discriminatory reasons such as race, religion, age and the like. Nor can they fire an at-will employee for being a whistle-blower and certain other reasons.

However, workers with union jobs can only be terminated for “just cause,” and the misconduct must be serious enough to merit such action. Before an employee can actually be fired, he or she can go through a grievance procedure, and if necessary, arbitration.

Workers who know they can’t easily be fired, will be willing to speak up freely.

Strength in numbers. Unionized workers have more power as a cohesive group than by acting individually. What you gain is the muscle of collective action. Through collective bargaining, workers negotiate wages, health and safety issues, benefits, and working conditions with management via their union.

Seniority. Rules differ among collective bargaining agreements, but in the event of layoffs, employers usually are required to dismiss the most recent hires first and those with the most seniority last — sometimes called “last hired, first fired.”

In some cases, a worker with a union job who has more seniority may receive preference for an open job. Seniority also can be a factor in determining who gets a promotion. The idea is that seniority eliminates favoritism in the workplace. Ultimately, the chief advantage of seniority is it is completely objective.

YOUR TURN

What benefits do you see in being a Union Member? Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page, on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds and don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

A Sobering Reminder to Unions on the Critical Importance of Supreme Court Appointees

President Trump is looking for a surefire conservative for the Supreme Court. For all the escalating rancor, this round to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia could be the prelude to a more consequential battle. The possibility of a second Supreme Court vacancy in the near future is subtly affecting the strategy of the Republican Trump team in the final stages of selecting a candidate and of Democratic opponents girding for what could be years of political turmoil surrounding the composition of America’s highest court.

Scalia, who died last February, was a rigid conservative on social issues so Trump’s replacement would likely be a wash. But a Trump successor to either of the two eldest justices — liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will turn 84 in March, or centrist-conservative Anthony Kennedy, turning 81 in July — could truly transform the law in America.

How the Fate of Unions Fell Into The Hands of a Single Man

In Commonwealth v. Hunt, (1842), an American legal case in which the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the common-law doctrine of criminal conspiracy did not apply to labor unions. Until then, workers’ attempts to establish closed shops had been subject to prosecution. Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw asserted, however, that trade unions were legal and that they had the right to strike or take other steps of peaceful coercion to raise wages and ban nonunion workers.

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The case stemmed from a demand by the Boston Journeymen Bootmakers’ Society that an employer fire one of its members who had disobeyed the society’s rules. The employer, fearing a strike, complied, but the dismissed employee complained to the district attorney, who then drew an indictment charging the society with conspiracy. The Boston Municipal Court found the union guilty.

Justice Shaw, hearing the case on appeal, altered the traditional criteria for conspiracy by holding that the mere act of combining for some purpose was not illegal. Only those combinations intended “to accomplish some criminal or unlawful purpose, or to accomplish some purpose, not in itself criminal or unlawful, by criminal or unlawful means” could be prosecuted.

Shaw, in effect, legalized the American labor union movement by this decision.

Let’s hope that the inevitable Democratic show of force on the first nomination serves as a warning to Trump not to put up an uncompromising conservative for a more consequential opening.

YOUR TURN

Prognosticators? What are your thoughts? Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

2016: Year in Review

Here’s looking back at some of 2016’s biggest #UnionStrong moments. We stand with you Sisters and Brothers!

NATIONAL…

scalias-death-ends-friedrichs-threatScalia’s death ends Friedrichs threat
In a case known as Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, the U.S. Supreme Court was getting ready to impose so-called “right-to-work” status on all public employees in the United States — making dues strictly voluntary and thus weakening unions considerably. But the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February resulted in a 4-4 deadlock on the case. The threat to labor could return, however, if a similar case is filed after another anti-union justice is appointed.

unions-count-verizon-strike-as-a-winUnions count Verizon strike as a win
America’s biggest strike in four years took place in April and May as 39,000 members of CWA and IBEW struck Verizon’s East Coast landline operations rather than accept contract concessions at the highly-profitable company. The strike ended after 45 days with a deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez on terms the union called a win, including 10.5 percent raises over four years, and protections against outsourcing of call center jobs.

Clinton loses in the electoral college
In the general election, Hillary Clinton had the support of nearly every labor union in the country, and she won nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. But she lost where it mattered: The electoral college, thanks to narrow Trump wins in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

trans-pacific-partnership-dead-at-lastTrans-Pacific Partnership, dead at last
For the first time since NAFTA, a corporate-written trade deal died on the vine. The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnerhip (TPP) was one of Obama’s top priorities, but broad public hostility to the deal — and the defection of some Republicans over industry concerns — prevented ratification in Congress. Trump’s election sealed its fate.

IN YOUR STATE…

Top legislative win: Minimum wage
With unions prepared to put minimum wage increases on the ballot, the Oregon Legislature stepped up to do the job and put the minimum wage on track to 12.50 to 14.75 by 2022, depending on the region. That amounts to an hourly raise of $3.25 to $5.50 an hour for hundreds of thousands of Oregon workers.

Biggest ballot defeat: Measure 97
Despite $16 million in local and national union money, a proposal to raise taxes on the biggest corporations doing business in Oregon was rejected by voters. As a result, instead of new investment in schools, health care and senior services, the state of Oregon faces a budget shortfall next year, once again.

Biggest union organizing wins:

  • 886 support workers at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center joined AFT.
  • 793 PSU grad students joined AFT/AAUP.
  • 310 hospital technicians at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center joined AFT.
  • 165 workers at Boeing paint contractor Commercial Aircraft Painting Services joined IAM.
  • 80 DirecTV workers joined CWA Local 7906.
  • 61 alcohol and drug treatment workers at Volunteers of America joined AFSCME.

Biggest union organizing losses:

  • 205 workers at a Jeld-Wen door plant in Chiloquin rejected the Machinists union in a 52-137 vote.
  • 179 workers at Portland Specialty Baking rejected the Bakers union in a 38-123 vote.

oregon-bernie-voteOregon Bernie vote: a mandate for bolder action by Democrats?
Hillary Clinton won among Democrats nationwide, but in Oregon, Democrats showed an appetite for a bolder kind of politics — backing a candidate who rejected Wall Street money and called for universal health care, free public college tuition, and a $15-an-hour minimum wage. In Oregon, Bernie Sanders packed arenas and outpolled Clinton by over 70,000 votes, 56 to 44 percent.

Minimum wage and sick leave
Raise the minimum wage to $13.50, and give workers the right paid sick leave? Voters did it, approving union-backed I-1433 by 59-41 percent.

sound-gets-serious-transit-investmentSound gets serious transit investment
Another ballot victory was voter approval for an ambitious 25-year plan to make $54 billion worth of transit improvements in the Puget Sound region, including 62 miles of light rail and new bus and heavy rail service to King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The project will mean union jobs, less congestion, and a cleaner environment.

Madore is no more, in Clark County
Flamboyantly anti-union Clark County Commissioner David Madore — who once pushed unsuccessfully for a local “right-to-work” ordinance — lost reelection in the August primary. In the general election, union-backed candidate Tanisha Harris lost to John Blom, but local unions were still pleased to see their nemesis go.

berry-boycott-ends-with-union-dealBerry boycott ends with union deal
A three-year union boycott against Sakuma and Driscoll berries ended in September, when Skagit Valley agri-giant Sakuma Berries agreed to allow a union election and recognize and bargain a contract with the farmworkers union.

YOUR TURN

What were some of your biggest #UnionStrong moments of 2016? Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.

7 Photos Of The Fight For $15 Protests Prove Raising The Minimum Wage Remains A Crucial Issue Post-Election

It’s easy to forget with the election of our incoming president-elect that millions of people mobilized to fight for their rights long before Donald Trump announced his candidacy. One such movement is the Fight for $15 campaign comprised of a labor union-backed group of organizations fighting for a national $15 minimum wage. On Nov. 29, service industry workers and their allies took to the streets from coast to coast to demand a living wage, and these photos of Fight For $15 protests show why this movement isn’t going anywhere, even under a Trump administration.

Arguably more organized than the Occupy Wall Street movement, Fight for $15 activists planned and executed the National Day of Disruption, a series of protests around the country designed to make their voices heard. At the heart of these protests lies the desire for a working class unity that hasn’t been seen for quite some time. This unity would be predicated on the opinion that “white working class Trump voter” is a dangerous myth and that economic inequality affects all working class and poor Americans — both Democrat and Republican.

Below are some photos from Fight For $15 protests around the country that showcase the bravery and passion of those willing to speak up for their belief in a living wage.

A Moral Crusader Got Arrested In His Reverend’s Robes

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Sam Barber II, known in North Carolina as the president of the state chapter of the NAACP and a leader in the state’s multi-faith “Moral Monday” movement, was arrested along with 22 other protesters in Durham, NC.

Sit-In Protesters Peacefully Arrested In New York City

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With civil disobedience as the cornerstone of the National Day of Disruption, these NYC protesters peacefully accept their arrests because to many members of the new labor movement, getting arrested is worth it in their struggle for a living wage.

A Multi-Racial Coalition Of Activists

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This photo expertly illustrates the multi-racial coalition of advocates who show that the fight for a living wage is far from single-issue activism.

Solidarity Across Employment Types

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At the #FightFor15 protest in Tampa, FL, nurses and clergy members came out in solidarity with service workers.

Minnesotans Came Out In Droves

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People of all ages in Minneapolis came out to support the fight for a living wage.

Fort Lauderdale Made Some Noise

fll-airport

Vuvuzela-wielding airport workers made a joyful noise alongside drummers as they protested for a $15 minimum wage and a union.

Chicago Participated Via Silent Protests

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With protests planned in 340 American cities, the National Day of Disruption certainly disrupted the post-Thanksgiving consumer narrative, and hopefully sent an important message to the incoming administration: that the fight for $15 isn’t going anywhere.

YOUR TURN

Share your photos with us on the Union Built PC Facebook Page, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Union Built PC UNION STRONG eNewsletter for articles, tips and guides like this delivered straight to your inbox.

 

 

Photo source: Twitter

 

How to Make Union Meetings Interesting and Useful

Membership meetings are not simply places for members to get information and cast votes. Meetings should give members a sense of power by bringing them together. They can see and feel that they are not alone, that others have similar problems, and that others have found solutions. Meetings should give members the opportunity to observe leaders and potential leaders in action. They can learn from each other, combine ideas, and build something bigger.

If this doesn’t sound like a union meeting you’ve ever been to, it’s because many locals are unknowingly stuck in traditions that almost guarantee that a first-time attendee will not come back, and only the most faithful will persevere.

Although many officers fret about low attendance levels, it is not necessary for democracy that all or most members attend membership meetings. Except at contract time and for other special events, most locals will see only a relatively small, dedicated minority at monthly meetings. Meetings, especially on a regular basis, are not for everyone.

But union meetings can be the chief organizing vehicle for that portion of the membership that takes union work most seriously – the activists. Coming to the monthly meeting is often one of the first things that a member tries when he’s seeking to be more involved. It’s important not to turn them off!

That means that the success of a meeting is not measured simply by the number attending, but by how that meeting contributes to the control, involvement, activism, and self-confidence of all the members, both those present and those not. What “comes out of” the meeting—the plans made, assignments taken, feedback received—are more important than the meeting itself.

union-meetingPerk Up The Agenda

To improve meetings and boost attendance, start by doing away with the standard meeting announcement that sets out the same uninformative agenda month after month:

  • President’s Report
  • Committee Reports
  • Old Business
  • New Business
  • Adjourn (wake up)

Tell members instead what will actually come up at the meeting. Make sure they know how to propose agenda points covering their concerns. Distribute proposed motions in advance.

Put important and controversial items on the agenda. Discuss issues that will directly affect work situations. Have votes on policy questions where the vote really makes a difference.

Get rid of the boring reports. Print them out and distribute them in advance. Do them in multiple languages if appropriate, so members can come to meetings prepared.

Once we get over thinking that every member should attend regularly, then we can specialize some meetings. Plan each meeting to focus on a different section of the membership. Invite a few of those members to make a presentation on specific problems they’re facing.

Advertise that the January meeting, for example, will take up the question of repetitive strain injuries in the wrapping department, and recruit shop floor leaders and RSI victims to give presentations. February will focus on the problem of a particular supervisor in inspection. Treated this way, soon members will be clamoring to get their points on the agenda.

Another possibility is to move the location of the meetings around to make them more convenient to different segments of the membership.

Get People Talking

Use some imagination. Bring in outside speakers for brief talks and discussion. Use video clips. Give people—especially volunteers—recognition for what they have accomplished for the union.

Break down into small groups on occasion to get more people participating. Have members do skits or role-playing to deal with challenges facing the union.

For example, management wants to bring in summer temporaries. Some members are pleased because their kids can get the jobs; others want to make management stick to the contractual hiring procedures. Most of the people at the meeting, because they think about the contract more than other members do, are in the latter camp.

Rather than just discussing how to make management toe the line, get two members to come up front, play the roles of union members with different viewpoints, and argue it out. Use the insights gained to plan a strategy.

Always have a point on the agenda called “members’ concerns,” where anyone can raise a problem or question without necessarily making a motion. In this portion the officers listen, make notes, and after the meeting see that some action or investigation begins. Not only do they report back to the person who has brought the concern, they also report back to the next union meeting.

Be Welcoming

Make sure several people are assigned to help any new members or first-timers understand the meeting procedures and help them accomplish what they came to the meeting for. Sit with them and explain what is going on. If a person uses procedure incorrectly, figure out his intent and help him through it.

The chairperson should go out of her way to make the newcomers comfortable, give them recognition when possible, and draw them further into participation.

Invite spouses to the meetings as full participants (except for voting). Have good quality childcare so that the kids look forward to the meeting as well as the adults.

One technique we do not recommend is door prizes or lottery tickets to boost meeting attendance. It cheapens the purpose of the meeting and stresses seeing things in terms of “what’s in it for me individually” rather than coming together to help all of us.

On the other hand, Teamsters Local 174 in Seattle used a financial incentive to break the ice with new part-time UPS workers. Those who came to an introductory meeting were refunded their initiation fee. Union leaders thought the one-time appeal to self-interest was worth it, to make sure some of these young, high-turnover workers learned firsthand about the local’s philosophy and how to get to the union hall.

Don’t Stop Here…

At the end of the meeting it is sometimes useful to have a brief point on evaluation—what could be improved? Keep the meetings short so they don’t dribble to a close as people drift out; leave time for informal discussion and socializing afterward.

Remember that the meeting is only one piece of the union’s life; most members relate to the union outside of meetings. If the union meeting in essence consists of the various levels of leaders—elected people and rank and file activists—then the next job is to figure out how to provide two-way information between the leaders who come to meetings and the bulk of the members in the workplace. A strong and democratic union exists primarily as a force in the workplace, not at the union hall.

That’s why every meeting should be an action meeting that leads to some other activity. Members and leaders should take assignments at the meeting, and these should be summed up at the end: “The president will check into x and report back to y body. John has volunteered to help the education committee put out a leaflet on xyz problem by x date. Everyone here in the abc department will take the group grievances and get them signed.”

Assignments should lead the work of the union back into the workplace where more members can be involved, not just to the next union meeting or committee meeting.

YOUR TURN

How do you accomplish a sense of togetherness at your Union meetings? As a member? As a leader?  Sound off in Comments, on the Union Built PC Facebook Page, or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly eNewsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.