Vol. 2 | No. 3
RETURNING TO WORK
R E SUPPORT D A E L A S THE UN ION UNDECIDED AGAINST 1 THE LEADER UNION’S POSITION WORKPLACE LEADER
3 UNDECIDED 4 NOT INTERESTED
ASSESSMENTS for Internal and External Organizing
he recent loss by Amazon workers organizing to form a union in Bessemer, Alabama, grabbed global headlines. As often happens when workers organize, the media focused on which politicians were supporting these workers and statements made by Amazon. However, the most important thing you should focus on as a workplace leader or organizer is “assessment numbers” that reflect the support for, resistance to, and awareness of the issues you are organizing around. Assessments are the best way to determine “where members and co-workers are” on the ideas you are presenting during a union organizing campaign or while in contract negotiations; they will help you to know workers’ willingness to back you. Organizers who run campaigns to bring new members into the union rely heavily on assessments. It’s a good idea to assess your membership well before negotiations begin. Your strategy to assess your members should seek to reveal the hopes, attitudes, and concerns members hold that you may not otherwise know and is best accomplished through personal connections. 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.
Talking to each worker to learn what members think and want will help inform your strategy going forward. Be sure your list of those to be contacted is comprehensive so no one is left out. These conversations between stewards and members will both build important relationships and help you gauge members’ readiness to act. Many unions use a rating system to track the level of support for mobilization. Often unions assess the strength of member support using a 5-point scale. (See scale on the next page. You can reach out to us at UnionBase.org for customized versions of the scale along with other organizing tools.) 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:
1 LEADER: These are stewards
and activists, or those who want to be. They are pro-union, willingly take assignments, and follow through. They are eager to be identified as a union supporter and help persuade others to support the union.
2 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.
3 UNDECIDED: They aren’t
sure how they feel about the union’s position or recommended action. They want to hear more, consult with others, think about it, etc.
4 NOT INTERESTED: They
don’t want to get involved. They may think what the union is asking won’t work, they may be afraid of retaliation, or they may simply have other priorities.
5 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 engage in any way.
“Knowing when to go forward with a particular action... should be determined by your assessments.”
The assessments are based on actual conversations, not assumptions, hearsay or past actions. To get a good assessment after discussing an issue or action, and listening carefully, it’s necessary to ask a question directly, such as, “Will you join the protest against the harassing supervisor on Wednesday?”
Someone is rated a if they say things like: 1
• “I’m all for it, what do I need to do to make it happen?” • “I know a few people who are interested. I can bring them to the planning meeting.” However, the ultimate way to determine if someone is a “1” is whether they follow through with what they agreed to do.
• “I’d like to, but I work a second job.” • “I’ll be there but don’t ask me to speak.” • “Sure, I’ll wear a support sticker.” • “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?”
• “The protest will never work. It’s a waste of 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.”
•“That supervisor is my best friend.” •“The union is always stirring up trouble, wasting our dues money” •“#@%$ you, go away!!!”
It is important that all stewards use the same criteria for assessing each worker they speak with. That way, when it comes to deciding strategy and tactics, the union is not comparing apples and oranges. People often say what they think someone wants to hear, so to ensure reliable results you may need to have more than one discussion, sometimes with different stewards talking with a person and then comparing assessments. It’s very tempting to make assumptions (“he’s not going to be interested”) without getting actual input. 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 and you should respect their request to be left alone. Organizers have used assessments as a helpful 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 organizing time is used wisely. Knowing 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 decide its success or failure. z
– Larry Williams Jr. is President Emeritus of Progressive Workers Union and founder of UnionBase.org, the first social networking platform for unions.
bother to take credit for a job well done. Bragging isn’t in our nature, and our work is about the greater good, not our egos or reputation. The problem is that when we don’t tell our fellow workers what we’ve accomplished and who secured the benefits and pay they depend on, one of two things can happen. The first is that the employer can take credit, even subtly. They may say that they are “giving” workers a raise or that they are “offering” hazard pay for employees who reported in person during the pandemic. It fits the narrative of the benevolent boss and makes it seem like the union isn’t necessary — or worse, that it gets in the way.
It’s Not Enough to Know Your Members
They Need to Know YOU
e’ve all heard them before — the tired old lines that divide workers from their union: “My boss treats me good!” “I’m looking at a promotion!” “I don’t need a union. I can speak for myself!” and of course, the ever facepalm-worthy “Why would I need a union? Pay’s good and my bennies are great!” There’s an epidemic of workers not understanding their place in their union and not knowing what their union has won for them. It’s not their fault; more than four decades of well-funded anti-union propaganda has seeped through American life, from political campaigns and parties to the editorials we see and hear every day in papers, blogs, and of course, UnionBase.org |
cable TV. Union stewards and workplace leaders certainly didn’t cause this problem, but it is our job to solve it.
Set the Record Straight Stewards tend to be modest to a flaw. We spend so much time with our heads down doing the hard work that we never
Second, even if management doesn’t steal your thunder, workers may simply begin assuming that the new cost of living adjustment or the improved leave policies are gifts from the boss — and why wouldn’t they? When stewards don’t draw a clear line from their efforts to the rewards that workers receive, those same workers will be left to make their own guesses or pick up rumors from the grapevine. Make that connection. Show how anything new and improved at work is the result of union actions and bargaining — and repeat your message as often and as far as you can.
Shout It from the Rooftops Turning workers against each other and the organizations that working people founded didn’t happen overnight. It took years of the same drumbeat, the same fear mongering, and the same sensationalized examples of unions falling short of their goals. In the end, it became almost a unanimous opinion that unions were ineffective, corrupt, and outdated. Fortunately, this is now rapidly changing, but we cannot do enough to accelerate the reversal of this toxic message. Members Need to Know You continues >
It’s NOT ENOUGH to Know Your Members. They Need to Know YOU. ▼ continued
Whether it’s a victory you’ve secured or a demand you are making, never miss a chance to tell the union story to your members, your friends and your family. In meetings, in email, on the phone — wherever you can reinforce the truth that
workers’ work-life quality comes down to their strength in union. These days, there are almost too many channels to keep track of, so whether your members are in Facebook groups, Slack channels, Signal or WhatsApp groups, or whether
Combating Steward Stress
steward’s job is stressful. If you are like most stewards, you’re committed to your work and can’t just walk away when your stress level is heightened. Sometimes you may be able to harness the stress and use it to push through a difficult task, but studies have shown that over time people under long-term stress are more likely to develop high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. Here are a few suggestions to help you manage stress. Exercise
Exercise is one of the most basic and important things you can do to combat stress. Studies show that even 20 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 3 times a week, can go a long way in reducing your stress levels. Try going for a walk, swimming, or even bike ride on a nice day.
Use Your Time Wisely
Sometimes the outside influences of your life can creep into your responsibilities as a steward. Budget your time thoughtfully with your personal, daily demands and learn to prioritize your tasks. Delegate where possible and simplify your life wherever you can.
Hone Your Problem-Solving Skills
If something is weighing on you, find a way to solve it by collecting as much information as you can and developing a plan of action. Example: If the same type of grievance keeps coming up, develop a strategy to deal with the underlying problem that is causing the grievance.
Breaking Out of Social Isolation
The COVID-19 pandemic created its own brand of stress with social isolation. Now that the pandemic seems to be ebbing away, seek out healthy activities and safely connect with others, be they family members or work colleagues. This will go a long way in reducing the stress factors created by the pandemic. z
they’re in traditional group texts and email chains, meet them where they’re at, be seen and be heard.
Speak to What Matters Everyone is busy, especially American workers. We work more and get less than we deserve, and let’s face it: the only folks trying to change that sad fact are those of us in labor. Many members therefore don’t have the bandwidth to take in more than what they need to know, and what they need to know is that their job is secure, their pay is fair, their benefits aren’t being stripped down and that if something happens, their family is taken care of. And of course, they need to know that their union is the reason why they have those guarantees. Too many members are disengaged and see the union as either something that they only call on in case of emergency or as something they don’t really need. Speaking directly to how the union is working to preserve their pay, benefits, working conditions, and work-life balance (something the rest of the American workforce has all but lost) can flip the script and help keep workers as engaged, dues-paying members.
Bringing it home Assessing your unit is critical to determining who are your current leaders and supporters but communicating the value of the union to members is what will make new leaders and supporters. It’s what can turn that “3” into a “2” and maybe convert some “2’s” into “1’s”. Lay this groundwork now and when the time comes, your team can be in an even stronger position to take on a new action or your next round of bargaining. z
EQUAL TREATMENT PRINCIPLE Often Helps to Overturn a Discharge
hen a worker is discharged or otherwise severely disciplined, it’s time to find out if the penalty is being equally imposed on other workers.
Take the case of a pharmaceutical company technician who was fired for failing to check equipment settings and then writing false entries in the log. At the time, the company had been on a crusade to assure its products were manufactured under strict rules of the Food and Drug Administration. The technician’s actions were indeed serious offenses, and, in many cases, could have warranted discharge, according to the arbitrator in this case. Yet, he ordered the worker reinstated, but with a three-day suspension, based mainly on the fact that three workers previously had been found guilty of the same offense and all were given either a three-day suspension or written warnings.1 If there had been one or two previous cases of lesser discipline that might not have given an arbitrator enough evidence to show there had been unequal treatment. In fact, some arbitrators set an extremely high bar of there must be at least six such cases of lesser discipline. Furthermore, the alleged behaviors must be nearly identical. In another case, a kitchen worker on a casino boat was fired for insubordination 1 2
and the use of vulgarity. His offense: he used the word “crap” to describe a piece of equipment. This discharge was overturned and the worker returned to his job with full back pay for two reasons: 1) the union proved the worker’s supervisor had used the same word without being disciplined, and 2) the casino company had not followed progressive discipline in the worker’s case.2 It is important that the union representative must be able to prove there had been unequal treatment of a worker in such cases. Just the word of several workers that “Charlie got off with only a 10-day suspension” in a similar case is not enough. Grievance records, logbooks or the testimonies of credible witnesses will usually be required. What makes a “credible witness”? While this often becomes a subjective conclusion on the part of an arbitrator, her reasoning is often influenced by the ability of a witness to show supporting documents. Often, this can be a notebook that he keeps where he has recorded dates, names and other pertinent information; it could also be a calendar or any similar personal document to back up his facts.
“The union representative must be able to prove unequal treatment in such cases.”
The case of the pharmaceutical worker was a blatant case of unequal treatment, since the previous cases had involved the exact same offenses; in other cases, it may require looking to levels of seriousness of the offense. The reason why unequal discipline must be challenged is that if an employer has been lenient in the past in certain types of cases then the employer’s actions have become part of the contract, as a past practice. Let’s look at tardiness. Suppose the employer has not enforced tardiness rules and then suddenly cracks down and discharges or heavily disciplines a worker for being late. That employer is violating a contractual past practice, and if the union permits the unequal treatment to go unchallenged, it then becomes the standard for future disciplinary actions. The basic principle of unionism is equality of treatment for all workers. It’s the responsibility of the union officer, steward or representative to insist upon it. z – Ken Germanson. The author is a veteran labor journalist.
Teamsters Local 688 and Texas Pharmaceuticals. Gerard A. Fowler, Arbitrator. Dec. 1, 2014 UNITE HERE Local 74 and Casino Queen [East St. Louis IL]. Maurice R. Smith, arbitrator. Aug. 25, 2014 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.