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Volume 16, Issue 3 — 2019




o get a good contract, pass prolabor legislation, support charities and community groups or just get one supervisor to stop harassing union members, unions need to do something called “mobilization.” Mobilization is a systematic effort to get members and others to act as a group in taking action — fill out a bargaining survey, lobby their elected officials, join an anti-cancer walk-a-thon, or challenge a harassing supervisor. A key part of getting members in motion is having a strong connection between union leadership and membership. Stewards who regularly share information from leaders with their members and communicate members’ concerns to leaders are the most important part of any effort to harness member power to make positive change. To perform this role well, stewards need to maximize their relationship with each member. Making and using that relationship takes time, great listening skills, persuasive messages and at least one more thing — assessments. Assessments are the way to determine “where members are” on an issue, proposed union actions, politics and, especially, how willing they are to do something about those things. Organizers who run campaigns to bring new members into the union rely on assessments heavily. A good example of when to assess your membership is well before negotiations begin. Enacting a solid strategy to assess your membership will reveal the hopes, attitudes and concerns members hold that you may not otherwise know. These assessments should be analyzed and shared with other union leadership, organizing committees and bargaining teams before sitting across the table from management. Engaging in these conversations is an opportunity to identify leaders and build up momentum for action by membership in support of bargaining.

Systematically talking to each worker and hearing what members think and want, as well as gauging their readiness to act, requires possessing a list of everyone to be contacted to make sure no one is missed. Based on actual conversations, stewards or others helping canvass make an assessment of each person contacted. Many unions use a rating system to track the level of support for a mobilization. Often unions assess the strength of member support using a 5 point scale. The scale helps identify who will put themselves out there as a leader, who supports the union, who is undecided and who is against the union’s position or proposed action. Here is what the numbers in the scale mean: LEADER. These are stewards and activists or those who want to be. They are totally for the union, willingly take assignments and follow through. They are willing to be identified as a union supporter and help persuade others to support the union.



SUPPORTER. They are for the union but not ready to take a leading role and be out front at union activities. They can be counted on to join union actions.


UNDECIDED. They have not decided how they feel about the union’s position or recommended action. They want to hear more or consult with others, think about it, etc.


NOT INTERESTED. They don’t want to get involved. They may think what the union is asking won’t work or they may have work issues they would like to see addressed but are afraid.


ANTI. They actively oppose the union and what it wants to do. They may think nothing needs to be done, tend to be negative on everything and/or refuse to talk. (KNOW YOUR MEMBERS CONTINUED)

Sample Assessment Form ISSUE OR ACTION: Protest harassing supervisor WORK AREA: Headquarters east STEWARD OR CANVASSER DOING THIS ASSESSMENT: Joe Hill Name

1. Leader

2. Supporter


Ready to lead

Wearing button

3. Undecided

Chris Pat Sam Mel

4. Not interested

5. Anti

Seems afraid Will join action Is new doesn’t know the issue well Likes the supervisor


How to Fight Back against New DFR Rules


The assessments are based on actual conversations, not assumptions, hearsay or past actions. To get a good assessment after discussing the issue or action, and listening carefully, it’s necessary to actually ask a question directly. For example, “Will you join the protest against the harassing supervisor on Wednesday?” SOMEONE IS RATED A 1. LEADER IF THEY SAY THINGS LIKE: ■■“I’m all for it, what do I need to do to make it happen?” or ■■“I know a few people who are interested. I can bring them to the planning meeting.” However, the final way to determine if someone is a “1” is whether they follow through on whatever they agreed to do. SOMEONE IS RATED A 2. SUPPORTER IF THEY SAY THINGS LIKE: ■■“I’d like to but I work a second job.” ■■“I’ll be there but I’m not comfortable being up front.” ■■“Sure I’ll wear a support sticker.” SOMEONE IS RATED A 3. UNDECIDED IF THEY SAY THINGS LIKE: ■■“I don’t like how the supervisor treats people but I don’t know if a protest is a good idea.” ■■“I need time to think it over.” ■■“Won’t we get in trouble if we do that?” SOMEONE IS RATED A 4. NOT INTERESTED IF THEY SAY THINGS LIKE: ■■“The protest will never work. You’re wasting our time.” ■■“I wouldn’t mind seeing something done about the supervisor but things will only get worse if we protest.” ■■“I got burned the last time I joined a union protest.” SOMEONE IS RATED A 5. ANTI IF THEY SAY THINGS LIKE: ■■“That supervisor is my best friend.” ■■“The union is always stirring up trouble.” ■■“#@%$ you, go away!!!”


ate last year the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the United States ordered all its field offices to pursue charges against unions for “negligent behavior.” Examples of such behavior include missing time limits, misplacing an alleged grievance or not returning a potential grievant’s phone call. This kind of careless or unprofessional behavior is never how unions want stewards to act. Prior to this new focus on “negligent behavior,” the NLRB and the courts dismissed most Duty of Fair Representation (DFR) cases because there was no evidence that the union was arbitrary, discriminated or acted in bad faith. For a DFR claim against a union to have merit, it had to be based on some

kind of discriminatory action or political retribution taken by the union or steward. For example, the union did not pursue a grievance because the member ran against the leadership in the last election or the steward did not take up a grievance because the grievant, although a member of the bargaining unit, chose not to be a member of the union. Simply making a mistake or being careless was never good but was not considered a violation of a union’s duty of fair representation. Not anymore.

It is important that all stewards use the same criteria for making an assessment of each worker they talk to. Therefore, when it comes to deciding strategy and tactics, the union is not comparing apples and oranges. To know your assessments are reliable takes more than one discussion and sometimes requires different stewards talking to the same person to see if their assessments match. People are known to say what they think someone in front of them wants to hear. That’s why it’s very important to look at what people do more than what they say. It’s very tempting to make assumptions (“he’s not going to be interested”) without a good discussion. Notice that on the assessment form there are reasons given for each assessment. When in doubt about how supportive someone is, be conservative. If there’s more support than you thought, that’s great. But if you overestimate, you could get into trouble.

You don’t want to plan a protest and find out that people you thought would attend don’t show up. It’s almost always true that only the solid 1’s and 2’s should be counted on. If you don’t have enough of those it means there is more work to do to persuade the 3’s and 4’s. Don’t waste time on the 5’s, you will not get them on your side most of the time and you should respect their request to be left alone. Organizers have used assessments as a necessary tool in mobilizing and organizing people for decades. With them the union can identify new leaders, find who can be relied on, who needs more discussion, and who to avoid so precious time in organizing is used wisely. Knowing whether and when to go forward with a particular action, or even file for an election in an organizing campaign, should be determined by your assessments of the people who will determine its success or failure.

THE NEW THREAT IS REAL This “negligent behavior” change only affects private sector unions in the United (DFR RULES CONTINUED)

—Larry Williams Jr. is President Emeritus of Progressive Workers Union and founder of UnionBase. org, the first social networking platform for unions.


(DFR RULES CONTINUED) States. It doesn’t cover Canada, public sector unions and unions in the airline and railroad industries, which are covered by different laws. However, it is very possible that judges and public sector labor boards in states and provinces will consider similar changes if anti-union officials who appoint them are elected. We know that well-trained stewards treat all members of the bargaining unit fairly without discrimination. They investigate grievances, do not miss time limits, and keep the grievant informed of the progress of the grievance. This should be as simple as catching a routine fly ball in the outfield. But even the best outfielders occasionally drop the ball and so do stewards. The NLRB ruling changes everything. Here’s how the ruling will affect unions in very simple terms. If the steward misses a time limit and management rejects the grievance on procedural grounds and not on the merits, unions might now be penalized or fined in a successful DFR lawsuit. With this in mind, stewards must be extra cautious and keep track of all grievances and complaints, take notes of all conversations regarding meetings with members, return phone calls promptly, and maintain a grievance timeline so that no deadlines are missed.

BE EXTRA CAREFUL AND USE TECHNOLOGY The new ruling makes it even more important to handle grievances well and document all conversations and actions taken for grievances. Technology makes this a lot easier. 15 POSITIVE WAYS TO HANDLE GRIEVANCES AND AVOID MISTAKES: 1. Don’t miss deadlines. Use your smart phone calendar or a paper one, and enter time limits for your grievance procedure. Smart phones can remind you of deadlines. 2. Do not let the employer’s failure to answer keep you from filing or appealing a grievance and risk making your grievance untimely. Speak to the employer before the deadline or appeal it to the next step if necessary. Any extensions of time limits should be in writing. 3. Create a file for each grievance whether on your computer or on paper. 4. Always do a full investigation of every potential grievance. That means interviewing all parties involved and getting relevant documents. Treat every potential grievance on its merits. Do not make assumptions. Do the same thorough investigation regardless of who brings the potential grievance to you. 5. Take notes of all conversations with members, managers and witnesses

Investigating a problem or potential grievance almost always begins with interviewing the people involved to collect as many facts as possible and/or requesting necessary information from management. Structuring your research and interview questions around the “5 Ws” can help you collect necessary information quickly.

THE “5 Ws” ■■WHO? Identify the names of the worker or group of workers, the immediate supervisor, and any other persons involved in the complaint (witnesses, co-workers, etc.). ■■WHAT? What exactly happened? What actions (or inactions) gave rise to the problem? Be specific! ■■WHERE? If an incident was involved, determine the precise location, department, and job site of the incident. ■■WHEN? Determine the time and the date of the incident. If it’s an ongoing problem, try to research when it started and when workers first learned of it. ■■WHY? Why is this incident a grievance? What section of the contract has been violated? Are past-practice, management rules, or state or federal law being violated? And remember to also ask yourself the one “H” and the one “R” ■■HOW? How can I involve the grievant and other members in solving this problem? How can I educate members about the problem and mobilize them to help our union win the potential grievance? ■■REMEDY? What do the grievant and other members believe the remedy should be? What would the grievant consider a fair settlement?

about the grievance. All notes should be dated and saved. 6. Take photos of documents. Smart phones have cameras for taking pictures of any potentially relevant documents. 7. Use a grievance investigation form. This reminds you to get the 5 Ws (see box) and other information and documents. The form should not be shown to management. 8. Schedule face to face interviews. Phone conversations do not show body language and can be easily misinterpreted. If you can’t meet in person, schedule faceto-face interviews using a video connection from your mobile device or computer. 9. Request all information and relevant records from management. Your union may have a form you can use. Such forms are also available on the Internet. 10. If you file grievances by email, and some local unions have adopted that as standard practice, indicate the email is of highest importance and check the box for a confirmation receipt and/or the box indicating the recipient has opened the email. Save the receipt. Copy the union office. 11. Forward any responses from management, such as records or denials of access to files, to the union. 12. Keep the grievant(s) informed. Provide regular updates and get back to the grievant quickly even if your message is that you are still looking into the issue or waiting for a response. Staying in communication shows good faith. 13. Give grievant reasons before settling or dropping their grievance. If the union decides to settle or drop the grievance, the grievant must be informed with the reason why. 14. Track all texts, calls and emails. Your smart phone will create a record for you. Also check your junk and spam files to insure that correspondence is not routed there. Do not delete anything. Do not use the employer’s email. 15. Be Prepared. At the various grievance meetings at all levels the union must be prepared. There must be no perception that the union is just “going through the motions.” Now more than ever stewards must practice the basics of grievance handling — investigate, communicate, document and be timely. Be fair and non-discriminatory. Always look at the issue first, not the person who brings it to you. —Robert Wechsler, Ph.D. The writer is a veteran labor educator who worked as Education and Research Director for the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO.




ith recognition to Steven Covey’s very successful book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, here are seven habits that will help union activists, whether stewards, delegates, committee persons, elected leaders or activist members: 1. ACTIVELY LISTEN AND LET SPEAKERS KNOW THEY ARE HEARD If members don’t feel heard, even if a steward is listening, everything becomes much more difficult. Show people that you are listening by making eye contact, nodding when appropriate, repeating back some of what you heard to verify that you understood what was said, and asking good questions. This is particularly important when a member comes to a steward with a problem. The member is usually upset and needs to know that the steward is really hearing her or him. 2. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY AND ASSERTIVELY Assertive communications aren’t aggressive or passive. Aggressive communication is so strong, forceful and perhaps disrespectful that the receiver of the message feels attacked. Passive or timid communication lacks clarity and passion, so the receiver doesn’t understand or doubts the sender expects to be taken seriously. Assertive communication has three parts: 1. A clear statement of an issue or situation. 2. An expression of what the communicator thinks and feels about it. 3. A clear statement of what the communicator wants from the receiver. For example, a steward may tell a manager: 1. There has been no heat at the Main Street facility since people came in to work today. We were told it may take up to two days to fix. It’s too cold for our members to work without great discomfort and the possibility of illness. 2. This is an urgent matter that must be dealt with immediately.

3. We want you to relocate workers to other facilities within the next two hours while we discuss other possible solutions. 3. CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS This may mean waiting to communicate until you are not as upset. For example, a member who is rarely satisfied and never active starts complaining about the union. Take a deep breath, tell the member that you hear them and will get back to them soon rather than yelling or calling the member out. It also means preparing for difficult situations so when they happen you have a plan to help stay on track. In the example above, it’s pretty easy to anticipate what will come next when that member approaches, so mentally tell yourself, “I’m going to be calm and not do or say something I’ll regret.” It helps to not take the actions of others personally when deciding how to respond. 4. BE SELF-REFLECTIVE This means being aware of how your actions affect others and the outcomes they want. Let’s say you plan a small work action around an issue like unfair distribution of overtime and it flops. Before blaming anyone think about what you did that might have contributed to the situation. Maybe you weren’t clear or didn’t spend enough time explaining the plan and each person’s role. Share with the group what you did that could have been done better and then lead a discussion as to why the action flopped, with the focus on learning, so you can all do better the next time. 5. BE MORE PERCEPTIVE Good leaders can read others’ body language, speech inflections and other non-verbal clues about how people are feeling. They look for signs of confusion or disinterest, of being offended or feeling disrespected. At meetings, look to see if people are paying attention or if they are checking their phones or spacing out. Notice when others are angry or hurt – and ask if you’re not sure, rather than waiting

for someone to raise the issue with you. When dealing with people who are upset address their feelings, (“I see how upset this is making you, I’m sorry”) before getting into the facts and possible solutions. 6. BE MORE CULTURALLY AWARE Good leaders understand that people are products of all their experiences and those experiences may be very different from their own. Maybe you like to get right down to business before socializing while others need to get to know you better before going forward. Leaders should educate themselves about structural bias, a la “isms” (racism, sexism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, etc.) that are at play – even when they are unintentional or unconscious. Don’t wait until a woman or person of color or immigrant comes to you. If you see that they are being treated badly, unfairly or discriminated against, approach them and discuss how you can help. If some members treat others disrespectfully, talk to them about the need for solidarity for everyone to benefit from the union. Learn about other cultures and encourage members from different backgrounds to work together and get to know each other. 7. MODEL BEHAVIORS YOU WANT FROM OTHERS Set a good example of wanted behaviors by demonstrating all the practices described above. If you want members to help campaign for a union-endorsed candidate or issue, let them know you will be there. Don’t engage in spreading rumors. Take your union responsibilities seriously, work hard, and show enthusiasm for getting involved with the union to make members’ work lives better. Look at the list above and think about where you think you can benefit from practicing the habit described. Then the next time you are communicating with others in your union work, try out that suggestion. Later, after using the habit, ask yourself, how well did I carry it out? Did I get a result that was better or worse than in the past? How can I get better at this habit? Then the next time you have an opportunity to use one or more of these habits, try again. In order to form new habits you have to use the new behavior many times. Once it becomes a habit you will make it part of how you do things and you don’t have to think much about it in advance. Each time you form a new positive habit move on to another one and add it to your tool box of habits.

T H E   B A C K   P A G E

OPEIU Steward Update is a bi-monthly newsletter for the information and education of OPEIU’s dedicated stewards.

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The OPEIU Steward Update is published six times a year by Union Communication Services (UCS)—The Worker Institute at Cornell ILR in partnership with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, CLC, 80 Eighth Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10011. For information on obtaining additional copies call 212-675-3210. Contents copyright 2019 by UCS—The Worker Institute at Cornell ILR. Reproduction outside OPEIU in whole or part, electronically, by photocopy, or any other means without written consent of UCS is prohibited. David Prosten, founder; Ken Margolies, editor. Cover art by Mike Konopacki.

Office of the President OPEIU, AFL-CIO, CLC 80 Eighth Avenue, 20th Floor New York, NY 10011

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OPEIU Steward Update V16 Issue 3  

OPEIU Steward Update V16 Issue 3  


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