Workplace Leader Vol. 2, No. 2

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Vol. 2 | No. 2


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Be realistic from the outset. Member conversations about the vaccine are an opportunity for members to hear from a knowledgeable professional and share their concerns. The goal is for everyone to leave feeling more informed and to feel heard.

Choosing a Speaker While some unions have the benefit of medical professionals among their ranks, most do not. So while you are certainly qualified to facilitate a meeting, it’s a good idea to have someone with medical expertise give a sound presentation on the vaccine and answer members’ questions about its safety and efficacy.


Engaging Members in PRODUCTIVE DISCUSSION Around COVID-19 Vaccines


ith the arrival of several COVID-19 vaccines at the same time multiple COVID variants have been identified, people, including your members, are understandably anxious. Between swirling news stories, anecdotes from friends and family, and the inevitable disinformation circulating on the internet, the cloud of confusion makes talking about getting the vaccine even more challenging. The issue of vaccinations is a thorny one, but by taking certain steps you can have productive and meaningful conversations with your members. Just because the conversation will touch on certain difficult and sensitive topics doesn’t mean it has to be derailed by them.

Setting Expectations There is one undeniable truth before beginning this conversation: your union exists to represent its members in labor-management negotiations, provide

member benefits and advance members’ interests in the jurisdictions where you operate. You are not your members’ doctor and you’re not their coach or therapist. Hosting a member conversation about the vaccine and a return to, or increase in, in-person work is something you are offering as an additional benefit to members. It’s something you are doing to help members because you are dedicated to serving them. You are not doing it to give medical advice or to aggressively persuade anyone.

The best thing to do while planning a conversation on the vaccine is to reach out to a healthcare provider who may be willing to volunteer an hour to help educate your members. You might contact the insurers or health management organizations your union already works with. Or, if you have a nearby Council on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), labor education center, or occupational health clinic, they likely have materials and/or webinars designed especially for workers and unions. Having a healthcare provider speak about the vaccine and answer questions both gives legitimacy to the information your members are receiving and makes it clear you are not giving out medical advice. This conversation simply needs to be led by a qualified doctor or other healthcare professional.

Cultural Competence There is no doubt that the internet is full of disinformation and misinformation. Unfortunately, this has infected not only our politics, but people’s very understanding of basic facts, including facts about the benefits of modern science and medicine. Worse still are conspiracy


theories, some of which are easily dismissed as unanchored to reality, but many of which are so common and nuanced that they can even mislead otherwise reasonable, sensible people. Misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories are certainly responsible for a large number of Americans distrusting the new COVID-19 vaccines. However, we cannot as leaders dismiss everyone who is skeptical of the vaccine as being a conspiracy theorist, an uncritical thinker, or a dupe. The reason some Americans struggle with accepting the safety of the vaccine traces back to a troubling past of medical experimentation

and abuse in the United States that, unfortunately, is all too recent. For many Black Americans, Native Americans, and other members of marginalized groups, the idea of a new medical treatment may recall stories of traumatic experiences where members of these communities were subjected to horrific medical abuses in the name of scientific progress. In several states, Black, Latin-American and Native women were routinely ruled to be mentally unfit and, along with women of all backgrounds who were living with mental health challenges, were sometimes subjected to forced sterilization. The

Tuskegee Study, in which Black men in the rural South were observed by researchers tracking the progression of untreated syphilis, was exposed for its lack of informed consent and its deliberate withholding of antibiotics from patients. Recently, more public attention has been drawn to the cases of J. Marion Sims, who developed modern gynecological techniques and procedures by performing tortuous experiments on enslaved Black women as well as to the case of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells were taken from her body for experimentation without her consent and without any compensation Talking Shots continues  >

COVID-19 Vaccine:

BASIC INFORMATION for Worker Advocates


vaccines. All have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although there is currently a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while the FDA and the CDC review some rare adverse reactions, like blood clots, that have been reported.

The COVID vaccines teach your cells to recognize and fight off the coronavirus when they see it, giving you highly effective protection from getting COVID-19 if you are exposed. The Mayo Clinic says that by getting a vaccine, you are helping your community by making it harder for the disease to spread and moving us closer to herd immunity from COVID-19.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the Pfizer vaccine be given in two doses twenty one days apart; the Moderna vaccine in two doses given twenty eight days apart; and the Johnson & Johnson in one dose. You should get your second shot of Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine as close to the recommended interval as possible but not earlier than the recommended date.

he vaccine for COVID-19 was created in record time, leaving many of your members with questions such as: What exactly does it do? What are the side effects? Do I have to get it? What happens afterward? We’ll explore these questions here.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), COVID vaccines have been tested in large clinical trials and were found to be safe. People of different ages, races, and ethnicities, as well as those with different medical conditions, were tested to be sure that the vaccine was both safe and effective. The COVID-19 vaccine is available for free but places that are giving vaccines are allowed to bill your insurance company for the administration fee. This is why those giving COVID vaccines may ask for your medical insurance card or number. If a location wants to charge you for the COVID vaccine, you should go someplace else. The 3 vaccines currently authorized for use in the US are the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (Jansen)  |

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You might have some side effects after getting vaccinated, especially after your second shot. These are normal signs that your body is building up protection to the coronavirus. Common side effects are pain, redness, and swelling in the arm where you received the shot, as well as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea throughout the rest of the body. These side effects should go away in a day or two. Once you get your shot, you will get a vaccine card. Health professionals recommend that you take a picture of the front and back with your phone. Then keep it in a safe place at home. And if you lose it, contact the clinic or site where you got it and ask for a duplicate.


COVID-19 Vaccine Basic Information continues  >



to her family for the medical advancements they helped to develop. For many Americans from marginalized communities, especially Black Americans, apprehension around new or experimental medical interventions is more than justified. In most of the examples above, the medical abuses continued well into the twentieth century. This is not ancient history. Discussing the vaccine in this context does not necessarily mean evoking examples such as those described above. However, a successful conversation will require you as a facilitator to

recognize this history and approach attendees who are skeptical or apprehensive with sensitivity, understanding, and an absence of judgment. Their fears and concerns are valid, and just like anyone else in a conversation, if they are expected to listen, they will need to be heard as well.

It’s All About Information In the end, your members need information and they need it in a setting where they can ask their questions, receive good quality answers, and feel comfortable with their fellow members. It isn’t your job to convince anyone about what is right for

For many Americans from marginalized communities ... apprehension around new or experimental medical interventions is more than justified. them. It’s your job in this moment to provide the best information possible in the most welcoming setting so that your members can make informed decisions for themselves and their families. z

COVID-19 Vaccine: Basic Information for Worker Advocates continued ▼ Common Questions ■ Can the COVID vaccine make me sick with COVID? No, none of the vaccines approved for use in the US contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19. ■ Are the vaccines effective against COVID-19 variants? “Viruses are constantly changing, and new variants have been emerging and circulating around the world throughout the pandemic. Vaccines do a good job of protecting us from coronavirus, but fear and confusion about the rise of variants have muddled the message.” You can read more about that at ■ Will the COVID vaccine change my DNA or make me infertile? No, the COVID vaccine doesn’t change your DNA or modify your genes in any way. It cannot keep you from getting pregnant. ■ Can my employer require me to get a vaccine? According to the CDC, whether or not an employer can make COVID vaccines mandatory is a matter of state or other applicable law. In addition, employees may be exempt due to bona fide medical concerns or sincerely held religious beliefs. Current EEOC guidance is that employers encourage their workers to get the vaccine rather than require it.  |

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■ After I get vaccinated, will I still need protection from the coronavirus in my workplace? According to the CDC, you still need to take steps to protect yourself and others even after you are vaccinated. This means: • wearing masks • physical distancing • washing your hands often • staying home if you’re sick Your employer must still ensure that steps are taken to protect you at work. In addition to ensuring that the measures above can be taken, your employer must provide adequate ventilation as we now know that the virus can circulate in the air.

Helpful Resources for Answering Workers’ Questions Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work — CDC Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines — CDC COVID-19: Vaccines — Hesperian Health Guides z –K aren Andrews, MLS. Librarian for the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley




Steward SNAPS A Few of the Key Cornerstones of An Effective Steward: rs • Build the union by providing a unified group of worke e with the knowledge and power to prevent problems befor . arise they as they occur and solve problems ties. • Involve members in all aspects of the union’s activi . alone all You can’t, and shouldn’t, do it a • Be a good leader by showing others that they can make difference by having the courage to take a stand!

a ommon Situations C e m o S r fo ns o Soluti … Steward May Face

A Steward’s Rights When a steward is doing work on behalf of the union, they have certain legal rights that make them equal with management. Here we take a look at some questions and answers about how management can and cannot respond in certain situations.

Q: During a grievance meeting, a supervisor makes some ridiculous and unfounded statements. Infuriated, you call him a “jackass.” Can you be disciplined by management for what you said?

veals a fact ting, the grievant re In a grievance mee out. you didn’t know ab wing can ing on. Good intervie go is at wh t ou e ur fig me Call a caucus and to every steward at so en pp ha to d un bo it’s t “Is there anything help prevent this, bu ays ask the member, alw , ep pr g tin ee m ur point. In yo ow?” else that I should kn ed but hts have been violat Your co-worker’s rig file a grievance. they don’t want to bers the need to assure mem ds ar ew St . ng eli fe at the Fear is a very real sponsibility to see th re a ve ha u Yo . em ng the union will support th are not violated. If fili s ht rig s’ er rk wo e th and sh to cooperate, contract is enforced member does not wi e th t bu y ar ss ce ne lations pass grievance is .” Letting contract vio ce an iev gr n nio “u a union and you can file it as rves to weaken the se ly on ion un e th without action from ent. embolden managem a worker ws and disciplines ie rv te in t en em ag Man ce of a steward. without the presen ld what are Court decision uphe e em pr Su S. U. 75 a worker has the A landmark 19 Rights,” stating that n rte ga ein “W as n disciplinary commonly know en they believe that wh n tio ta en es pr re it is up to right to request union agement. However, an m th wi g tin ee m a m e employer is action may result fro rd or union officer: th wa ste e th t es qu re s. So it’s up to the worker to rker of his or her right wo e th m or inf to ion under no obligat out this! ur members know ab you to make sure yo

A: No. Strong language, short of extreme profanity, is protected during a grievance meeting. Q: A supervisor has a habit of

making workers perform tasks outside of their job classification. As a steward, do you have legal standing to tell workers to refuse these assignments?

A: No. The rule is, “obey now, grieve later.” Make sure to keep accurate notes of each incident to support your grievance. Q: The company is investigating drug use in the workplace. As a steward, can you advise members not to participate? A: No. The union must cooperate when management is conducting a legitimate investigation. Advising workers not to answer questions could lead to the steward being disciplined.

– Adapted with thanks to UE and PACE Leadership Education Program.  |

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When a ‘PAST PRACTICE’ is Critical in an Arbitration


n ice cream manufacturer in Minnesota had been crediting workers whose shift started at 11 p.m. on a Saturday in such a way that they could gain additional overtime pay.

After more than two years of doing so, the company decided to end the bookkeeping practice, thus depriving workers of potential extra income. The workers’ union, the Teamsters, grieved the issue and it went before an arbitrator who ordered the company to resume its previous method of crediting workers since it had become a past practice. Any changes, the arbitrator said, had to be negotiated with the union. The concept of a “past practice” is often misunderstood. Not every practice in the workplace becomes a “past practice,” just because it may have continued over a long period time. Several other factors have to be considered. In a dispute where there is a conflict between the specific language in the labor contract and a past practice, the written contract clause will be accepted as governing, except in rare cases in which a practice has continued so long (usually through several contract terms and with top management’s knowledge) that the past practice would be determinative. In this case, however, the labor contract only spelled out general guarantees of compensation. Nothing referred to the formula for crediting overtime hours. Thus, the past practice became an important factor. To be considered a past practice, both union and management leadership must be aware of it. In this case, a key supervisor and the payroll department had known of the bookkeeping procedure. No one in management sought to

change the practice when it started and it continued long enough to be accepted as a feature of the workplace. In a sense, it had become an unwritten clause of the labor contract, just as if it had been written in ink and signed by both parties. Also, the procedure or practice must continue for a long period of time, with most arbitrators considering three to five years a reasonable period of time.1 In this case, the practice had been known to continue for two years, considerably less than usual; yet, the arbitrator no doubt may have believed the practice had been firmly established. Further strengthening a claim that a “past practice” was established would be the fact that the practice had continued through one or more bargaining sessions without the matter being discussed or changed if it had been discussed. Of course, either side could ask to reopen a contract to seek to change it. Several other factors must be considered to ensure that a practice might be accepted as binding on both the employer and the union. Such practices must occur repeatedly, the more often the better. For instance, if the practice was done only three times over a five year-period, it would be hard to prove it constitutes a past practice. Also, whatever the practice is it must be done consistently in the same manner. For instance, let’s say one department supervisor several times a year permitted

workers to leave 30 minutes early on a Friday; it would be hard to prove a “past practice” had been created, since it was done randomly and infrequently. The principle of past practice often can be used to clarify a vague clause in the contract. Many contracts use the word “reasonable,” a word that can carry different meanings. Past practice can be used to define what’s reasonable. For instance, if a contract were to say that “relief breaks are to be taken at reasonable intervals,” most arbitrators would look to past practice to see how often such breaks would be “reasonable.” Past practice also often comes into play in disciplinary cases. In a 2014 case, a pharmaceutical company fired a worker for failure to follow procedure in checking equipment and for listing false entries in a log. It contended the firing was warranted due to the need to follow Food and Drug Administration procedures. The union showed three similar cases in which workers were given three-day suspensions. The arbitrator restored the worker to his job, but with a three-day suspension, following the action in the earlier cases. Thus, past practice can be used in “just cause” disciplinary situations. It’s wise to consider an established past practice as part of the labor contract, one well-known arbitrator has said. “The past practice doctrine is powerful because a binding past practice becomes a term of the CBA,” he said, adding, “In the end, you can always negotiate for something else in the next contract.”2 z – Ken Germanson. The writer is a veteran labor journalist.


“ Winning Past Practice Grievances,” UE News.


n excerpt from report on 2019 conference of Labor A Arbitration Institute. See past-practice

Workplace Leader is published six times a year by UnionBase. Contents ©2021 UnionBase. Reproduction in whole or in part electronically, by photocopy, or any other means without the written consent of UnionBase is prohibited.  |  Cover art produced by Billy Buntin of BBDigital Media. Layout & Design by Chadick+Kimball.  |

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