Vol. 2 | No. 6
SELF-CARE FOR STEWARDS
For worker leaders, it’s not a luxury. It’s self-preservation.
S Put Yourself First
Make Your Own Balance Focus On Your Family
elf-care. These days, the term conjures up images of scented candles, essential oils, and absurd indulgences hawked by celebrities and startups to turn a profit from consumers of wellness products. There’s almost always a class element, too. The activities, products, and services that are marketed as enhancing our “self-care” seem to only be available to those with ample disposable income and a wealth of leisure time. So what does self-care mean to worker leaders, to the people who take care of other individuals, and indeed entire communities and organizations? No single definition could possibly work for each and every one of us. We’re individuals with different stresses, various demands, and of course, varying tastes.
The one unifying factor for us all is that we need to practice self-care in one form or another, not for enjoyment or indulgence, but for our own self-preservation. We work hard, we organize, and we fight — all things that demand a great deal of time and energy. In order for us to keep up the fight, however, we need to replenish ourselves. None of us can go on forever without taking time to focus on ourselves and rebuild our strength and endurance.
❝ There’s no such thing
Put Yourself First None of us would wait to refuel our car until after a long road trip, so why do we wait to fill our own personal tanks until after we’ve been running on empty for weeks, months, or even years? It’s impossible to do our best or feel our best if we haven’t taken care of ourselves in the first place. Rather than viewing your self-care regime as an afterthought, start thinking of it as a prerequisite to putting in your time at work or volunteering your time for others. It’s a cliche in some circles, but it’s true: we can’t fill anyone else’s reserves when our own are empty. Start by planning your work around your life rather than your life around your work. We all need to budget time for rest and for play, and to just get things done, whether running errands or going to a child’s pediatrician appointment. Plug those important plans (and yes, they are important) into your calendar. Make them
as a healthy work-life balance for working people. ❞
recurring items if that helps you plan ahead. Then — and only then! — start scheduling your work-related obligations. Meetings and deadlines shouldn’t be ignored, but we can’t let them interfere with our real lives, and they most certainly will if we allow them.
Make Your Own Balance There’s no such thing as a healthy work-life balance for working people. That’s a huge part of why the labor movement got started and why we carry on the fight to this day. If employers and industries cared about the well-being or
the personal and family time of workers (as well as our pay, safety, health and benefits) then labor would not be locked in the struggles that are common to our work. No one will give you balance, no more than anyone has given you healthcare, paid leave, insurance, or any other benefit you may earn or are fighting to earn. You need to take it, or in this case, make it. To make your own balance, start by blocking off time that is exclusively for you, whether it is quiet time over the weekend or time for family in the evenings. Even if you are someone who needs to be on call outside of the old 9 to 5, don’t make yourself available every single night, weekend, holiday, vacation, and personal day. Mark certain periods of time or days of the week when you cannot be reached by phone, and you refuse to check text or emails. If that seems impossible, work with a colleague to coordinate schedules, so that they can cover for you when you need time, and you can cover for them when they need a break as well.
Focus On Your Family We may feel like we’re indispensable at work or in our union, and to be honest, we kind of are — at least in the short term. The reality, however, is that none of us is truly irreplaceable. It may take time, even lots of time, to replace one of us at our jobs or in our ranks, but eventually we will be replaced by someone who will figure out the lay of the land and take over our duties. Yes, even you. Ultimately, we all are replaceable. Except at home!
For your family, there is literally only one you. Absolutely no one can replace you in your family, not if they learned all your lame jokes, recreated all of your recipes, or took on all your hobbies. It will never happen. That’s because, unlike your job, your family loves — and needs! — you for who you are as a person, not for what you can do for them. Whether you have a big family at home, a sprawling extended family, a spouse or significant other, or a tight knit group of friends, that is what matters in life. It’s not about blood; your family is made up of the people who value you and who in turn enrich your life. These are the people who replenish your energy and allow you to get up and go every day. Quality time with them is an investment in yourself, and while time at work can feel like an investment in your future pay or benefits, time with your loved ones is an investment that will always yield a return.
❝ These are the people
who replenish your energy and allow you to get up and go every day. ❞
Ask your family members what they need from you just as you would ask what is expected of you at work — just do it much more informally! Have a strategic plan for a big project at work? Make a strategic plan for getting your family together for your niece’s graduation next spring. It may sound silly if it’s new, but unless and until we prioritize our family members the way we do our work obligations, they will continue to fall through the cracks. z UnionBase.org |
We recently asked for tips and pointers from labor leaders on how to keep going and avoid burnout. Among the many great submissions we received (Thank you!) we’d like to share one of our favorites. Avoiding burnout is a serious challenge for labor leaders. My first piece of advice is to take time for you. Seriously. Turn off your phone for eight hours on a weekend day. Pick an evening during the week you will turn off your phone three hours before you go to bed. Why? For your health. I let my group know the day I am turning off my phone and ask them to email me with questions in advance. I don’t check back until my next “on” day, or Monday if it’s the weekend. If there is an emergency, I have a coworker who will check for me and let me know. They cover for me and I cover for them when they need downtime. The work will survive without you. Take your time off, tell your team who they can contact in your absence, and trust that things will go ok while you’re gone. They will. I promise you that your home life will flourish and be stronger because of this commitment to yourself. Get used to taking care of yourself first. If you are not healthy, rested and clear headed, how can you help anyone else? Think about your current habits. Do you take issues home? Are you grumpy because someone yelled at you at work, so now you yell at home because you don’t want anyone at work to see you upset? Whether at work or at home, just be you. It’s a lot less tiring. Choose a goal for yourself to find time to relax and unplug. For me, I know that when I am on the top of my game, my union members, my family and friends get the best version of me they can, because I know my worth. Where some of us mess up is thinking that we are “irreplaceable.” The fact is we are all replaceable — that is, at work. Don’t burn out or “burn the candle at both ends.” Write down the days you choose with the times to unplug, let your members know and let your family enjoy the benefits along with you. Remember, there is only one you. Others will learn to step up at work because you stepped away. In this simple act, you will not just save yourself, but also create future leaders in our unions. After all, if you always save others by doing everything yourself, how will they (or you!) grow? Linda Dill TWU Local 514 - American Airlines Property Tulsa, Oklahoma
Building a Movement to Last
T Larry Williams Jr. Co-Founder of Workplace Leader and UnionBase
his month workers successfully completed a bid for unionization at Starbucks. Without a doubt this is a historic moment for the labor movement in America. Behind this victory, and many others, is the union staff who support workers in their struggle for better wages, healthcare benefits and workplace safety. Many of our readers have been supporting workers for decades as advocates who sacrifice hours of personal time after work to help workers achieve a better life for their families. I know from personal experience that this type of sacrifice can be rewarding and grueling. When I worked at a major Union for nearly 10 years, I fought day in and day out against corporate attempts to silence workers. I knew if I didn’t put my all into every organizing campaign, workers would suffer and lose their jobs. I always looked forward to the day when groups of workers at Amazon, Starbucks, FedEx, and more would have a voice in their workplaces. Now that we have finally been victorious, I feel a sense of accomplishment, hope, and exhaustion. When you’ve worked at anything for an extended period of time it’s inevitable that you will feel a drop in energy compared to when you first started. It’s also likely that you will be so accustomed to working day in and day out to accomplish your goals that you will not be in the practice of taking time for yourself. Your organization must have a culture that supports taking vacations and time off for mental health when needed. It’s important as a leader in the workplace that you encourage that culture and practice it yourself as well. If you don’t, you may reach personal and professional burnout before you know it. Taking time off besides the holiday season, even if it is a long weekend every now and then, can do wonders for your mental health. It can give you space to find appreciation for your co-workers and to spend time with your family. The work left on your desk will be there when you get back and it will take less time to catch up than you think. If you’re worried that the work can’t get done without you then you need to make changes to make sure that the work is spread out amongst your team. Another important thing to do is taking time to reflect on what’s happened after years of organizing, bargaining, and representing members. My advice to anyone who has been working in the labor movement for years is that you take time to appreciate what you’ve accomplished and to forgive yourself for what you haven’t. We tend to move on to the next campaign or start bargaining the next contract without reflecting on what we’ve experienced emotionally or spiritually. The first union contract negotiations I ever led took a serious toll on my personal health because I was sacrificing many things in my life in pursuit of wins for the members we represented. It’s great to take contract negotiations seriously, but it is wasteful to sacrifice your own self-care to win the mission. After the contract negotiations were completed and we had secured a historic contract on behalf of membership, I took several months to recharge myself. I didn’t have the luxury of not working the entire time, but I did take time to reflect and appreciate the victory we had all accomplished. As a result, I gained a much clearer vision of what we achieved and a better outlook on the future. z
Don’t Let Employer Cheat on Leave; CHECK YOUR CONTRACT
anagement hates it when a worker takes off, and many will seek to find any reason to deny the worker leave. Often, the union must step in to assure the worker’s right to that leave is protected.
Workers should remember that leave is an earned right, won in hard bargaining, often with the union having to draw back on another issue. Thus, if a worker is denied leave, the union must check into it; in most cases, you need only to look to the union contract for the answer. Take the case of a male employee of an Ohio school district whose request for paid parental leave was limited to a two-week period for the birth or adoption of a child. The employer claimed the six-week period for parental leave only covers female employees. An arbitrator ruled, however, the male worker had a right to six weeks since the labor contract calling for the six-week leave period was gender-neutral and didn’t specify women only.1 The granting of leave for union purposes is often contested, but it, too, is a protected right. In one case, a food industry union official was refused leave because he failed to state a specific time for his leave but left it “indefinite.” An arbitrator ruled that there was nothing in the contract that required a worker to list
❝ Workers don’t need to lose benefits ... while they’re on leave.❞
a specific time for his requested union leave. He granted the worker his leave.2 When a Pennsylvania police department refused leave requests if it would result in overtime, an arbitrator said no-no. The ruling was based on 20 years of past practice in which leaves were granted even though overtime pay occurred. The practice, the arbitrator said, was well-established and was just as strong as if it had been written in the contract.3
Often, too, an employer may use a technicality to refuse a leave request. A Michigan company refused to pay the three days of funeral leave because there had been no church representation at the memorial service held for the father of a worker. The arbitrator said the contract called for paying three days’ funeral leave upon the presentation of a death notice for the purpose of “attending the funeral or other services,” with no other proof needed.4 Workers don’t need to lose benefits, such as health insurance, while they’re on leave, even an extended leave. It all depends upon the wording of the contract or if there had been an established past practice. In the case of one worker whose job was eliminated while he was on leave, an arbitrator ruled the company must continue to pay his health insurance premiums for the full 12-month period of his leave. The arbitrator said the contract clearly stated that workers on medical leave receive 12 months of paid health insurance, regardless of the circumstances.5 Thus, the lesson: Don’t let any leave denial go unquestioned. Check the contract. z – Ken Germanson. The author is a veteran labor journalist.
1 Mt. Healthy (OH) Teachers Assn. And Mt. Healthy City School District. Jonathan I. Klein, arbitrator. March 3, 2011. 2 UFCW Local 617 and Pinnacle Foods Group LLC. Mark Suardi, arbitrator. March 24, 2015. 3 Millcreek Township Police Assn. And Millcreek Township. Jane Minnich, arbitrator. Feb. 8, 2011. 4 Teamsters Local 7 and Michigan Milk Producers Assn. Patrick A. McDonald, arbitrator. May 14, 2014. 5 Teamster Local 695 and Citrus Systems Madison. Stanley E. Kravit, arbitrator. June 17, 2013. 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.