Unions — Not Corporations — Stand for Freedom of American Workers

Freedom is one of the most cherished American principles. But freedom means more than the ability to speak your mind, practice your religion, or choose your own democratically elected leaders. Our freedoms don’t end with the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Freedom is also the ability to enjoy economic security and stability. And that means more than making a decent living and having enough to pay the bills. It’s about both financially supporting our families and having time to be there for them. Freedom is the ability to take your mom or dad to a doctor’s appointment, to attend a parent-teacher conference, and to retire with dignity.

Unions provide the power in numbers that allow workers to secure and protect these freedoms.

Unite

Unions champion policies that benefit all Americans. They fight for affordable healthcare for all, especially now, as Congress is considering legislation which would inexplicably throw millions of people off the insurance rolls.

Unions fight to improve the quality of public services. Union member Tyrone Wooten is an environmental technician at a medical facility in Flint, Michigan. He knows firsthand the devastating impact of the water supply contamination in his community. And he traveled 14 hours by bus last year to Washington, to protest the testimony of the Michigan governor, whose austerity policies led to the water crisis in Flint.

Unions are also on the front lines when it comes to retirement security participating actively in protecting public pensions and safeguarding Social Security.

RELATED: The Pros of Joining A Labor Union

It’s hard to believe anyone could be against pregnant women and infants having quality health services, families having clean drinking water, or retirees having rock-solid Social Security benefits. But many people actually are. The privileged and powerful — CEOs, massive corporations, and the wealthiest 1 percent — do not just oppose these freedoms. They rig the rules to undermine them and they spend billions of dollars lobbying against them.

And because Unions fight for these freedoms, the moneyed interests have made Unions a target. They want to use the courts to chip away at the rights and protections Unions have won for everyone. They have now petitioned the Supreme Court to take a case called Janus v. AFSCME, in which the plaintiffs seek to impose “right-to-work” as the law of the land in the public sector.

Right-to-work threatens the ability of working people to stand together in a strong Unions, drives down wages and weakens workplace protections, while redistributing wealth upward. Moreover, right-to-work has its roots in the Jim Crow south, where segregationists pushed it to restrict the labor rights of African Americans and keep them from finding common cause with their white coworkers. Right-to-work, in other words, was created to inhibit freedom.

RELATED: What Are The Common Topics In Most Union Contracts?

Americans value their freedom, and they define it broadly. It is the ability to earn a decent paycheck without sacrificing family life. It is the opportunity to live in a safe community and send your kids to a decent school. It is the peace of mind of knowing that an injury or illness won’t ruin you financially and that you can live in some modest comfort in your golden years.

The labor movement believes in — and are the guardians of — all of these freedoms. So, as the corporate special interests gear up for another well-funded attack, let us do everything in our power to protect and defend our freedom to join together in a union.

YOUR TURN

How is your Union taking a stand to protect and defend the freedoms and rights of American Workers. We want to hear your story. 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 UNION STRONG email newsletter. You may unsubscribe at any time.

10 Most Common Mistakes Union Stewards Make

A good Union Steward is many things – an organizer, a negotiator, a counsellor, a peacemaker and a troublemaker. But there are certain things that a steward should avoid at all costs.

Stewards

Here we explore the 10 most common mistakes often made by Union Stewards…

1. Fail to represent fairly
Not only does this leave the union open to being sued for breaching its duty to provide fair representation, it’s just not the right thing to do. It undermines the whole purpose of the union and the very idea of solidarity.

2. Make backroom deals
Management is notorious for trying to get stewards to trade grievances. “I’ll let you have this case if you drop the one we talked about yesterday.” Every member deserves a fair shake and every grievance needs to be evaluated on its own merit. Never agree to anything you would be uncomfortable telling your entire membership about.

3. Promise remedies too quickly
You’re hurting both the member and your credibility if you pass judgement on a grievance prior to a thorough investigation. Only after you have spoken to the grievor and witnesses and consulted the contract, the employer’s rules and past practices are you in a position to make that determination. Given the frequency of poor and mixed arbitration decisions, no steward should ever promise victory.

4. Fail to speak with new workers
The most important way a union gains the support of a new member or a potential new member is by one-on-one contact with the steward. You not only want to provide new workers with information, but need to build a personal relationship and begin to get them involved in union activities from their first day on the job.

5. Fail to adhere to time lines
Even the strongest, iron-clad case can be lost if the time line specified in your contract isn’t followed. Even if management agrees to an extension, it is not in the union’s interest to let problems fester and grow. If you do get a formal extension of time limits, be sure to get it in writing.

6. Let grievance go unfiled
Every grievance that goes unfiled undermines the contract you struggled so hard to win. While most members see changes and problems only in terms of the impact on them, the steward needs to be able to understand a grievance’s impact on the contract and the union as a whole.

RELATED: Automating the Grievance and Arbitration Management Process

7. Meet with management alone
When you meet with management alone, suspicions may arise as to what kinds of deals you’re making. It also allows management to lie or change its story. More importantly, when the steward meets with management alone, it takes away an opportunity for members to participate in the union and to understand that it’s really their organization.

8. Fail to get settlements in writing
Just as you should protect yourself by not meeting alone with management, be sure to get grievance settlements in writing. Putting the settlement in writing helps clarify the issues and keeps management from backing down on their deal.

9. Fail to publicize victories
Publicizing each and every victory is an important way to build your local union. This publicity not only has a chilling effect on the employer, but helps educate your own members on their contractual rights. It also gives you something to celebrate and builds the courage needed to carry on.

10. Fail to organize
Stewards are much more than grievance handlers. They are the key people in the local who mobilize the membership, and they must be talkin’ union and fightin’ union all the time. Each and every grievance and incident must be looked at in terms of how it can increase participation, build the union, and create new leaders.

YOUR TURN

Are you a Union Steward whose learned from experience? What can you add to our list? 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. 

Some Words of Wisdom About Filing A Grievance

All grievance procedures require going through a series of steps, with the contract itself identifying when each step is to take place, what precisely is to occur, and who may or must be involve at each stage of the process. Generally, the procedures get more formal as you go through each of the steps. Some grievances are resolved successfully at the earlier stages of the process, while others are not pursued past a certain point for a variety of reasons. Before we take a look at what the steps of the grievance procedure looks like, here are a few notes of caution.

grievance

First, read through the grievance procedures contained in your collective bargaining agreement. Some of it may look like fairly technical stuff. You’ll probably find requirements as to the format that must be followed in writing up grievances the rules for who receives certain grievance filings, calculation of time frames for processing a grievance (such as the difference between “working days” and “calendar days”), etc. Don’t be intimidate by any of this; your Union Steward has received training in how to process grievances and has additional help to call on if needed. The best advice? Try not to wing it on your own! As soon as something happens that you thin might properly be challenged through the grievance procedure, consult your Steward.

Second, you are to be commended if you familiarize yourself with the provisions of your contract. But don’t automatically assume that, because of what looks like plain language in the contract, there is nothing that can be done to deal with a workplace problem that you have. Sometimes event he plain English in a contract doesn’t mean what it says (or, as the question was put by the Marx Brothers, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”). For example, you may be able to count well enough for it to seem completely clear that too many days have gone by since a particular event occurred for you to meet the time frame set forth in the contract for initiating a grievance. But it’s worth at least consulting with your Steward, since you may learn that there are sometimes unwritten exceptions even to such seemingly clear-cut provisions, such as the grievance time clock stopping for holidays. Or you may learn that there are other mechanisms, besides the grievance procedure, that can be used to address the problem.

Third, don’t make the mistake of assuming that it would be useless to pursue a grievance because you think you’d never be able to get enough evidence to prove your case.

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

The fact is, both your contract and the law probably give your union the right to obtain vast quantities of documents and other information from your employer, if that information is needed to evaluate a potential or pending grievance. So if proof of your grievance over unfair treatment lies in determining how your employer has dealt with co-workers under circumstances similar to yours, your union will probably be able to get hold of the relevant personnel records.

Finally, before just about any workplace complaint is put into writing, an attempt should be made to work through the problem at the lowest level. Even if your contract’s grievance procedure doesn’t specifically call for an informal oral step to start out with, you and/or your Union Steward should talk to a supervisor in an attempt to clear up any misunderstandings or to resolve any disagreement. This is almost always a good idea, in part because once a complaint is committed to writing, parties’ positions tend to harden. And even if an informal attempt to address a problem does not in fact resolve it, it generally has the beneficial effect of clarifying what the problem is and how the parties may see it differently.

YOUR TURN

Even when keeping these items of caution in mind, sometimes informal attempts don’t work. And it’s time to put something in writing. Have you initiated or filed a grievance in your workplace? What words of caution do you have to add to our list? 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.

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.

lemuel-shaw

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.

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.