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.

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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. 

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.

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

solidarity-across-employment-types

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

Minnesotans Came Out In Droves

minnesota-socialist

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

poverty-doesnt-fly

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

 

Learn the Common Topics in Most Union Contracts

Every union contract is different. Workers decide how issues are addressed and negotiated with the company. Union members decide what makes sense for the them. Contracts are also called Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) or Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs). Contracts are negotiated for a period of time, usually between 1 and 6 years.

Negotiator’s Advantage: Comprehensive Software to Manage the Collective Bargaining Process

Common topics in most union contracts include:

Just Cause (protection against unfair discipline or firing) is one of the most important protections workers get from a union – protection against unfair discipline or firing. It says that you cannot be fired or disciplined without “just cause.” It means that a boss has to prove that there was a good reason to fire or discipline you.

Seniority sets how decisions are made when more than one worker wants a shift or job assignment, wants to work overtime (or when no one wants to work overtime), etc. For example, the contract may state that if there are layoffs, the newest workers must be laid off first. Different contracts have different types of seniority clauses.

Pay Rates and Raises The contract will set rates of pay for all workers, including when workers get paid a “premium,” for overtime, shift and weekend differential, working in a higher classification, or being on-call. Workers often negotiate for a minimum number of hours of work, so they can’t just be sent home with no pay if there’s no work. Workers know when and how much raises will be during the contract.

Time Off and Benefits includes what holidays and how many sick and vacation days workers get — and fair rules for taking them. It can also set an employers’ payments to health and welfare and pension funds. Benefit levels may be set by the amount of time you have on the job.

Bargaining Power Inc. has developed Bargaining Power® Software, which saves Labor Unions time and money as they conduct all of their cost analyses.

Grievance Procedures makes sure that workers get a fair hearing by setting how problems will be worked out. Usually, grievances are filed when the boss has broken a contract rule, violated your rights under the law, ignored a company rule or procedure, or changed a past practice (what has always been done, if it’s a bad change or not done fairly for everyone). Grievances can also be filed for any unfair situation that management has the power to correct, even if there is no contact language, law, or company procedure. When a grievance or discipline cannot be worked out, most contracts say that an independent arbitrator (like a judge) will make a decision which both sides have to live with.

It is important to file grievances quickly. The contract will have timelines which must be followed. Usually the deadline is a certain number of days from when the problem happened – or when you (or the union) knew about it.

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Fair rules for many situations are negotiated so that scheduling, job bidding, vacation bidding, and many other issues are done fairly. Common examples include if a worker bids into a new job, a rule that says that he can go back to his old job if it doesn’t work out; a fair system for scheduling, including posting the schedule in advance; how vacations are scheduled; “reporting pay” – a minimum number of hours you must be paid if you are called in to work; posting of empty jobs so that interested workers can bid for them; making sure workers have the equipment and supplies to do their jobs well and safely.

Legal Protections which are also law. These protections are included in the contract because it is often easier and faster to enforce the rights under the union contract.

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The Strike At Trump’s Atlantic City Casino Is a Flashpoint for the Entire Labor Movement

What those striking are now bravely confronting in Atlantic City should resonate deeply with American workers, their unions, and beyond

In Atlantic City workers at the Trump Taj Mahal casino hotel, members of UNITE HERE Local 54 wagered a struggle that should make it one of those crystallizing flashpoints that garner national attention and mobilize support from the entire labor movement, progressives, and working people at large.

Such flashpoints arise only occasionally in workers’ struggles for justice. In living memory, for example, Eastern Airlines, PATCO, Pittston, the Decatur wars, UPS, and most recently Verizon are among those that have attained that status.

Those flashpoints of national concern and mobilization occur when what particular groups of workers are fighting for and against connects with broader tendencies and concerns in workplaces and the society in general. Downsizing, speedup, outsourcing, privatization, capital flight, unsafe working conditions, profitable employers’ demands for concessions that imperil workers’ standard of living are all among conditions that have triggered those moments.

The striking Trump Taj Mahal workers are involved in precisely such a fundamental struggle now, one that should resonate far and wide among American workers and their unions.

trump-tag-mahal-casino-atlantic-city-strike

How It Started

Nearly 1,000 cooks, bartenders, housekeepers, cocktail servers and other workers there went on strike on July 1—the culmination of a twenty-month struggle to restore pay and benefit cuts that Donald Trump’s crony and notorious billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn imposed on workers after obtaining permission to do so from a bankruptcy judge. Last year, it should be noted, Trump indicated that if elected he “would love to bring my friend Carl Icahn” to his administration as Treasury Secretary.

The Trump Taj Mahal Bankruptcy Ruling’s Devastation

Following the bankruptcy ruling, Trump Taj Mahal workers lost health insurance, pensions, even severance pay. Workers have seen their average total compensation cut by more than a third. One striker with a chronic medical condition recently died alone at home without access to medical care, and there is no reason to believe that his case is unique. There are many other horror stories, including workers faced with losing their homes and apartments in addition to suffering other material and emotional hardships.

Why This Fight is Everybody’s Fight

The Trump Taj Mahal strike is an important moment for us all because these workers are on the frontline against forces that threaten us all and that lay bare what a Donald Trump presidency would have in store for millions of American workers.

trump-quotesBoth Trump, who built the Taj Mahal, and Icahn, who is the current owner, have taken millions from the property, driven it into bankruptcy, and left the workers holding the bag. Icahn, as Trump Taj Mahal’s sole debtholder between 2010 and 2014, took $350 million out of the business. Icahn has a long history—going back nearly thirty years to his takeover of TWA airlines—of bleeding companies of assets, gutting pensions and benefits, and then tossing aside the firms’ hollowed out carcasses. Manipulation of employer-friendly bankruptcy laws has also been a Trump specialty, one that he has used on several occasions to stiff contractors, going back to when he was the original “too big to fail” scamster at the beginning of the 1990s. Combined, Trump and Icahn have used the bankruptcy tool at the Taj Mahal multiple times.

Another reason we need to see the Trump Taj Mahal strike as all our fight—in addition to the outrageous injustice and hardship Icahn has perpetrated on these workers—is that this struggle in Atlantic City sheds light on some important mystifications that need to be clarified if we hope to turn the tide against the intensifying predatory assaults on American workers’ standard of living.

The Taj Mahal fight is a frontline battle in the systematic attacks on working people’s living standards in this country perpetrated by the likes of Donald Trump and Carl Icahn and their ideological affiliates Mike Pence, Scott Walker, Bruce Rauner, Pat McCrory, Paul Ryan and the Congressional Republicans, the education “reform” billionaires, the Koch brothers and ALEC, the many tentacles of the carceral state, all of whom are intent on destroying public goods and services, and good public jobs, if not the very idea of a public.  To keep the focus on Icahn and Trump, however, what better poster boys could there be for the predatory “billionaire class”?

If the Trump Taj Mahal was permitted to operate on the terms Icahn imposed, workers, the union, and the broader community understand that the result would be a local race to the bottom, as other casino operators would argue that they have to compete with Icahn’s sweatshop model to remain viable. As by far the dominant industry in the city, the hospitality and gaming sector is directly linked to the economic health and well-being not only of casino workers but of the community at large. It is decent hospitality sector jobs that enable workers to buy houses and provide the backbone for the entire local economy.

And Atlantic City is not alone. Icahn’s attack on Taj Mahal workers is of a piece with broader right-wing attempts to drive down workers’ living standards everywhere. This is what is behind the systematic attacks on teachers’ unions and other public sector unions and efforts to destroy the national postal service. Partly it stems from a desire to eliminate any organized expressions of workers’ power, to clear the way to realizing the other objective: creation of a world in which we would have no alternative other than to accept work on whatever terms employers choose to offer it.

That, of course, would be employers’ utopia and workers’ hell.

Key Takeaway

The issues at the core of the Trump Taj Mahal strike reflect the concerns shared broadly by workers in this country. The struggle presents a clear window onto the danger within the false promises Trump seems to offer some, and the strikers and their union provide a clear, practical model of the sort of movement we will need to change this country’s political direction to center on the needs of working people.

Making this fight a national issue on the order of those earlier key labor flashpoints certainly seems like a no-brainer.