19 February 2009

Yes, more on the union

Ok, I may actually be starting to see the benefits of unions. Maybe. Or my brain chemistry is changing because I'm coming out of a Down.

When I went to the first union meeting I ended up 'debating' with the Negotiator for about an hour over pay scales. I find them to be a ridiculous assessment of ability and monetary reward for a job well done. I still don't think a person should be paid more just because she's been around the company longer. Maybe a little perk, but not overall wages. During the meeting I came across as opinionated, narrow-minded, forceful, anti-union and argumentative. And I really was all those things. But I was also tired, stressed, and in a Down. I get grumpy when those collide. Top all that off with the fact that nobody showed me how to act in these situations. I had only a vague idea of what was appropriate (the usual as with anything, but the finer points of union protocol were a mystery) so I behaved like, well, me.

Fast forward to earlier this week. Negotiator flew up from a nearby major city, flight paid for with my union dues I'm sure, to hold a meeting with the city Union Rep and employees. I remember being told we are welcome to attend any meeting and the union has nothing to hide. So I invited myself along to this meeting last Tuesday. The two employees, U and Y, were paid for their full day of work to attend this meeting, even though the meeting was at 1:30pm. They could have worked a half day and still gone to the meeting, but they took the whole day off work. Their wages were paid by my union dues. Good to know my dues are being put to good use. Anyway, the meeting was on my time not company time so I zipped over to the hotel, making it there with lots of time to spare.

I was early, found the right room, and surprised U and Y. They weren't expecting me and made it clear I wasn't really welcome. There weren't enough chairs, so I very calmly went back to the concierge and asked for more to be set out. They were. I spent the remaining half hour talking nicely to these two women, if only to warm the chill in the room. Negotiator showed up on time, but without Union Rep. Apparently UR was sick and unable to attend so she just left the documents in the meeting room. Negotiator was flabbergasted to see me there and in a fluster called Union Rep at home to make sure I was allowed to attend. Hm. Not very welcoming for someone who said we could attend all meetings.

I had to listen to Negotiator comment several times on having me arrive uninvited, to which I kept replying "you did say we could attend any meeting if we chose to, and this is on my time after all". He gave up. He did explain that this is technically the Bargaining Committee and being a part of it comes with many rights and responsibilities. I pointed out that at the last meeting he said he wanted as many people as possible on the committee, it shows solidarity. Negotiator was careful to point out that the union has to pay for lost wages and it may not be cost effective to have three Bargainers with only 25 union employees to represent. Hmmmm. I countered that with two things. The first was that he said the union could fund an extended strike so therefore should be able to pay my wages, and that I could volunteer to do this on my time as I can create a very flexible schedule with work. Negotiator didn't say much after that, and every time he brought it up I just told him I'd check it out with Union Rep in a few days when she's feeling better. I don't really want to be on the Bargaining Committee, I may just attend as an observer or even not at all. I just didn't like Negotiator stepping on my toes.

Then Negotiator took a conference call that lasted a half an hour. He couldn't get out of it, he said. Kind of nasty of him, I thought. That didn't really show us we are very important to him. Well, not to me. U and Y just figured he must be so busy. I was very good in not ripping Negotiator a new butt hole when he finally ended his call. I had the good sense to realize that would get me nowhere.

While he was wasting our time on his call, he did let us read the Booklet of changes to our agreement that they will be presenting to the other side on Monday. Oh. my. goodness. It was long. We had two items to discuss that I knew of - a retirement plan and paid personal days in addition to sick days. This Book was thirty pages long! And the demands were ridiculous - ten sick days a year and they accumulate year to year, 'substantial' pay increases, severence packages that include two weeks for every year worked to a maximum of 40 weeks. Like, holy crap! In this economy? In retrospect I realize that of course the union will try to amend our agreement so it looks more like other company's agreements in the same union, but at the time I was surprised at the addition of all kinds of union rules that the employees didn't request.

So instead of coming across as Miss Bitchy Pants I decided to just ask questions without showing my stubborn, argumentative side this time. I asked for clarification on several items and had him draw me a chart of what pay scales actually are. I still presented myself as anti-union. Probably.

The day after the meeting I was cornered by a co-worker who had a lot of questions. I answered them all as best as I could, and tried to clear up a bunch of stuff that Negotiator had confused her on last time. I found out after the last meeting she had misunderstood much of what was said by Negotiator. He's a smooth talking guy.

When I tried to talk to another co-worker who had questions, another girl very rudely kept interrupting me. She was obviously pro-union and seemed to have a huge chip on her shoulder with the employers. After that, you'd think I had the plague. People were not coming up to talk to me at all. And those that were looked furtive and rushed. When I approached a cluster of people my presence killed all conversation. It was kinda interesting. A bit odd, but interesting.

So this morning I decided to not talk about union stuff at all. I'll just keep my head down and get to work, but still watch people as much as I could. In doing this, one person approached me with economy questions (Negotiator things the economy won't play a role in the bargaining. Maybe N needs a map to get his head out of his butt so he can take a look around), and I did point out that this was the worst possible time to negotiate a contract. She agreed and thinks the business will actually shut down (we are extremely slow at work, nobody seems to be buying cakes) so we should be thankful for a job. I really did my best not to talk about union stuff after that. I was even reasonably successful. Kept my mouth shut a lot today.

But given how slow it is at work, I had a lot of time to think. I realized that the union stuff isn't all bad. I would like the employer to pay 100% of my health benefits. I would like optical added to the health benefits. If we are on a pay scale, at least I will make more than Interrupting Girl because I have more seniority. So, yeah, the union isn't horrible. Just mildly icky at this point. I still don't like how they want to make everyone the same. We are individuals. As much as the union has been a good thing, I think they are too controlling in deciding what is best for us as employees without really getting to know our needs. I mean, Negotiator thinks we all do exactly the same job (only half of the people are on the line and do exactly the same job) and couldn't seem to hold in his head how many unionized employees we are. It's just annoying.

I think I understand that I have very little control or power in this situation. The union will argue the points as laid out (Negotiator was going to add some things as well, but didn't disclose what those things were) and the employer's negotiator will argue back. I will just have to place my trust in the employers and their blind hatred of the union to keep things from getting out of hand. And really, if I was on the Bargaining Committee, I'd spend more time arguing with Negotiator then supporting him. So instead of being terribly disruptive with the negotiations, I'll just make sure to show up at every voting meeting and ask for clarification on everything. I don't trust Negotiator to be clear enough for most people to understand him. He's already hoodwinked a couple of people by not explaining striking, except to say we must threaten it. Some people I did get a chance to speak to didn't know it's only $8/hr for every hour picketed and that you can't work another job in the interim. So, you know, I'll make sure the voting is informed instead of strongarmed. Other than that, I'll back off. Mostly.

Having said all that, it is extremely slow at work. One guy who's been there for 18 years said he's never seen it this slow going into March. My workload could triple before I felt any stress over getting it done. It is driving me absolutely bonkers to stand around chatting with people or staring at the wall in order to make my days last eight hours. Eight. looooong. hours. I do everything I can to look busy to anyone walking by, but it's getting truly silly at how slowly I am capable of moving. I hope it picks up soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After reading what the union is asking for, your last paragraph about how slow it is sent ice through my veins. I hope things start to pick up for you before the negotiations start....

Concerned but loving Mom