The ‘Birdies, Bogeys and Pars’ of Union Leadership

The UnionBuilt PC “LeaderBoard”
The ‘Birdies, Bogeys and Pars’ of Union Leadership

– Guest Post by Fred Romanuk, Ph.D.

I asked Pete Marchese if I could write a monthly article on ‘Union Leadership’. He said, “I don’t know. Why don’t you write something and we’ll see if anyone reads it.” But, first, do a Bio so people know who you are”.

So, here goes. My name is Fred Romanuk, I am a Canadian, I worked out of Vancouver for most of my life from my own company, but from Baltimore for a number of years as Senior VP for an international consulting company, and I am an ‘Organizational Psychologist’. That simply refers to the fact that I have a Ph.D. in organizational psychology.

So what does that mean?

farmers

Well, to illustrate, there were 2 farmers talking to each other across a fence about their kids.

The first farmer said, “I here yer boy went off to College”.

The second farmer replied, “Yup, yup, he did”.

“What’s he doin there”? asked the first farmer.

“Well, he told me he wants to get this here BS Degree”.

“I reckon I know what that stands fer” said the second farmer.

“Yup, yup” said the first farmer. “Then he wants to stay there and get this here MS degree”.

“What does that stand fer?” asked the second farmer.

“I reckon that stands fer, More of the Same”

“What is he goin to do then” asked the first farmer.

“Well, then we wants to get this here Ph.D.”

“So what does that stand fer?” asked the second farmer.

“I reckon that stands fer, Piled Higher and Deeper

*  *  *

Most of what I know about organizations I learned from my clients, not from school. And, I am a damn good Organizational Psychologist. I have worked with companies for 40 years and Unions for about 20 years. During that time, I have coached many Supervisors into Managers, Managers into VP’s and VP’s into Presidents. Now I want to coach Stewards, Union Reps, Business Agents, Local VP’s and Presidents to become better leaders.

The long and the short of it is that Unions need to get better at what they do.

I have worked with organizations in Canada, the USA and Europe. Some of my clients include Roadbuilders, Mining Companies, Manufacturers, Retail Stores, and Electric and Gas Utilities. I consulted with Panasonic in New Jersey, British Electricity International in London, and a Swiss Bank in Geneva. I have a lot to say.

Next month, I want to talk about “Giving Good Phone”.

Let Pete know if you are interested in reading my stuff by leaving a Comment, or sounding off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page, or on their Twitter or LinkedIn feeds.

 

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15 Tips for Union Stewards

We tip our Union hats to you who serve your union brothers and sisters. You accepted the burdens of workplace leadership. A position that is fraught with anxiety, frustration and immediacy, but is also a position that can be truly gratifying as you help and assist your co-workers.

Your position is a day-to-day activity of membership contact within your shop. Uniquely, by this position you have the opportunity to be on top of most situations that occur whether it is the company violating the contract or whether the Union business agent is unavailable to be there quickly.

Most members look first to their steward. You are most often available on a daily basis, you have frequent and direct contact with your union office and usually you have been in bargaining and understand intimately the essence of the contract language. This is not easy; whether you are a new steward or one with years of experience. We know you have a lot of people relying on you to protect their interests and to enforce their labor agreement.

UNION-STEWARD

So we’ve compiled a list of top “Quick Tips” to keep in mind. We know you know all of these, but we also know that as you work hard to serve, they can easily be forgotten by anyone…

1. You don’t have to be an expert. Stewards are always being asked questions. Don’t act like you know what you’re talking about when you don’t your friends and your co-workers will see through it right away. Say you’ll find out, and get back to them.

2. Figure out where to turn for answers. Your union officers and staff should be knowledgeable in contract interpretation and many areas of labor law. Other union activists can be important people to rely on. And depending on where you work, on the job there are undoubtedly a few people who work in different offices or departments who know more than anyone what goes on behind management’s closed doors.

3. Knowing how to delegate tasks is your most important skill. Recruiting volunteers is an easily learned skill. Some people do it naturally, others benefit from specific training in recruiting or team-building.

4. If you try to do it all yourself, it won’t work. You won’t be able to do anything as well as you could, you’ll get frustrated, and then you’ll burn out. The more people you get involved, the more you can accomplish.

5. Your job is to empower people. Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime. If all you do is solve other people’s problems for them, what are they going to do when you’re not there? Help people learn how to solve their own problems.

6. Ask a lot of questions. Socrates didn’t become famous for nothing. The best ideas come from picking a lot of people’s brains and getting them to think about old problems in new ways.

7. Learn how to listen. With grievances and personnel problems, sometimes just being willing to listen is the most important thing you can do. When you’re organizing you need to know how other people feel and how they view the situation before you can influence them. Ask and listen.

8. Don’t let management treat you like pond scum. When you’re representing your co-workers as their union steward you are equal with the supervisor you’re dealing with. You’re both intelligent adults. On the job, your supervisor may have authority over you. But on union business, you’re his or her equal.

9. Never assume that management knows better than you. Most supervisors have little understanding of contract rights or labor law. They have experience in program or production and in supervision. Anything you learn about employees’ rights on the job makes you more of an expert in that area than they are.

10. Pick your fights. Defending your fellow employees is an important part of a union steward’s job, but if that’s all you do you’re always on the defensive. If you identify issues and take the initiative to demand changes, you’ll make important progress. Don’t let management control the agenda. Be pro-active and pick the issues that you think you can make some headway on.

11. Always get back to people. If you want your co-workers to have trust in you, you’ve got to be responsible and reliable. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver on, and be sure to follow through on what you do commit to.

12. Be organized in your own life. Pick a system and keep to it. How are you going to keep track of appointments and meetings? Where are you going to keep notes and reminders to yourself? Throw out papers you don’t need, and have a good system for finding the stuff you keep.

13. Be a responsible employee on the job. Not only is this important if you want your co-workers to have respect for you and your opinion, but it keeps you from getting into unnecessary trouble with management.

14. Maintain a sense of humor. On the one hand, ridicule can be a powerful weapon against an irrational supervisor. On the other, don’t take yourself too seriously. If you get self-righteous you won’t learn from your mistakes and you’ll turn people off.

15. Keep your eyes on the prize. There will be setbacks. There will be losses. Sometimes people will get angry at you, and sometimes you’ll start to wonder if it’s all worth it. But as long as you remember that collective action is the only real way to change things for the better, you’ll know that in the long run, helping to build the union is the best thing you can be doing for yourself and your family.

YOUR TURN

Whether a Union Member or Union Steward, do you have any tips to 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 Union Built PC UNION STRONG eNewsletter for articles, tips and guides like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

 

Five Ideas For Union Recruitment of Young People

Communicating to and engaging with young people is notoriously difficult – even for major multinationals with millions of dollars in marketing budgets. For unions, which are under regular attack from media figures and conservative politicians, it is as difficult for join young people up and engage them in campaign as for any organisation.

A key for effective communication is to understand your audience. Communicating with young people requires this in spades. There is no such thing as generic “young person”. Like other groups of potential members, young people are united by common interests, education, income, demographics, needs, geographies, occupations, goals, communities and ethnicities (amongst other things).

The difficulties of encouraging young people to join unions are obvious, but here are some. Young people are more likely to have precarious employment and many will be working in a job they do not foresee as a long-term career. Being casual means they have a smaller income to pay union dues. Young people are often very mobile, so can change jobs easily (if they can find work at all).

Many young people are unaware that a union exists that would cover them. Increasingly, young people have high expectations for organizations in terms of the quality of communication experience: in print, online and on television and radio – it should be engaging, interactive and relevant. Their expectations upon joining may be quite high: as everything speeds up, everyone, including young people, expect instant responses and solutions to problems. The prevalence of smart phones amongst young people means that they’re more and more expecting organizations to have mobile-ready websites and other communications creative, like videos or games.

Finally, more and more young people want customized responses to their concerns and needs. Big service organizations like mobile phone companies, credit card companies, health insurance companies and media companies have responded by fragmenting their offers and allowing a “pick and choose” approach. These companies aren’t doing this because they like choice, but because their customers are demanding and expecting them.

Unions, unlike behemoths like Coke or Nike, don’t have massive marketing budgets. These multi-nationals spend a small fortune on market research, in an elusive search for “cool”. The result is often awfully superficial, and distils young people down to stereotypes focused on consumption. Where they excel however is their creative execution. Their ads are better produced, their websites more engaging.

Most unions understand many of the workplace concerns of young people. In most regards, the needs and desires of young people won’t differ much from their older colleagues. They want recognition and respect, and decent wages and conditions.

Unfortunately, unions are most often let down by their execution. Attempts to pitch at young people are often ham fisted, filled with “grunge” fonts and out-of-date “youth-speak”.

Social-Recruiting

So, having outlined some of the challenges, here are five ideas for unions to use when trying to engage young people at work:

1. Link careers with unions

Most young people who have casual jobs don’t see it as a career, especially if the job in question is one they have while attending college. Eventually however, they will embark on a career, and if they’re lucky, it will be one they are passionate about.

Unions should draw more clearly the link between a young worker’s interests and passions, and thus their future career, with the union. This can be difficult for unions covering those casual jobs — but for unions with coverage over those career jobs, engagement with your future members starts before they enter the workforce.

This is most obvious for young people pursuing professional jobs like teaching, nursing or engineering, but can apply for careers like the law, journalism, architecture or graphic design (or even accounting and marketing).

Having a campus outreach program, student membership (so you can give potential members a “trial” membership) and programs to strengthen the specific career is essential.

For unions that cover those casual, precarious work, it’s time to get more creative.

Perhaps investigate joint membership with those career, professional unions. When a teaching student at university gets student membership with the teacher’s union, could they have an associate membership with the union that covers their fast-food job? (This could be organised through a state or national peak body.) Could unions work with universities, colleges or schools, where the educational institution buys “bulk” membership for their students?

2. Don’t talk down to prospective members

Avoid thinking of the current generation like your own. This generation simply doesn’t think or act as you do.

The way that young people engage online or with television, or even with major corporate brands, is changing constantly. For most of you, when you were entering the workforce, Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. Now things like Instagram and Snapchat are changing how young people create and distribute content. This generation has simply never lived without the Internet.

The bottom line here is that unions need to talk to young workers as equals. For a start, messages that emphasise how vulnerable young workers are, or how they are being exploited, can make young people feel devalued. Even though it’s true that young workers are more likely to be ripped off or poorly treated, starting from that point is less likely to engage young people.

Effective communication is often informal and personal, with engaging imagery. It is delivered across all key social sites, including through mobile and apps. It relies on peer-to-peer recommendations and often uses testimonials from other young people talking positively about their experience.

3. Put out your messages on multiple channels

Young people consume media through multiple channels. The phenomenon of multi-screen consumption is well and truly entrenched.

Moreso than ever, when a young person engages with an issue, company or cause, they do so on their mobile, and their tablet, and their computer, and the television. It’s no longer enough to have your message just in print, or just online, or just on TV or radio (depending on your budget).

Your message will not only be more meaningful, but it will be more engaging if it can be consumed through multiple channels.

At the risk of sounding obvious, unions should communicate with young workers in places they are likely to be. Don’t just launch your website or Facebook page. You need to promote your message in a wide variety of places: at the cinema, on TV, on Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, out-door, and in apps. In order to cut through the white-noise of modern marketing, you need to (unfortunately) increase your volume and your reach.

Unions are still playing catch up on this front. Most unions are still heavily invested in their print media: journals, posters, flyers. While some are broadening out to improving their websites, email and social media presence, substantial investment is needed still.

4. Use creative that aligns with young people’s lives

By the time they enter the workforce, most young people will have already formed tight social circles, whether through school, sport, music, church or other interests. While unions may not seem like it is their role to help workers “fit in”, it can be an important opportunity for organizers and delegates to engage with young workers. This means simple things like ensuring that delegates welcome young workers and help ensure they are included.

It also means that unions should use creative — that is, graphic design and text copy — that resonates with contemporary culture. I don’t mean that older people should write “cool” lingo. But union communicators and organizers should be aware of communication trends. This is a big challenge, but unions who want to engage with and join young people to the union need to invest more in creative graphic design and communication that is relevant and modern, and be able to adapt.

5. Don’t be stuck to the past

It can be difficult for unions to move quickly or respond to new challenges. As democratic organizations, unions often can only make big (but important) changes through democratic decision-making, such as annual or biannual council meetings or delegate conferences.

However, unions must take a fresh look at what their core message is (not just to young people, but overall). Focus and clarity are essential. What are unions all about? Why does the union exist?

If these simple things cannot be clearly expressed in a contemporary manner, then you will have trouble communicating to young workers.

The essence of all effective communication is focus. Unions must communicate a single thing clearly.

Be prepared to jettison the old ways of communicating — those “ten reasons to join” lists, and outdated slogans about “workers united will never be defeated”. Also, forget about your communications being one way. The days of broadcast communications being effective are over. Even big brands who advertise on TV find that their ads are being talked about on social media like Twitter or Facebook and more. Think about the new trend of major advertisers such as Burger King that activate your smart technologies by yelling out “Hey Alexa” in their ads.

More broadly than just messaging and communications, unions need to start creatively thinking about membership options and plans. Not just looking at price, but considering options where young people can join without the full “premium” service, or “online only” advice. How unions engage with young people will increasingly be online. Should unions look at 24-hour “chat” services to give advice instead of expecting face-to-face meetings with industrial officers or organizers? How can young workers engage in solidarity actions digitally? Unions need to come to terms with the notion that “full” engagement and commitment is a very high bar.

YOUR TURN

Given the challenges inherent in recruiting young Union members, what ideas do you have to try to drive membership among this generation? 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.