Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Cutting corners, cutting too much?

Man balancing stuffIt is not easy being a union officer. There is a lot to balance. You have a lot to do with almost no resources. You have a lot of people who make a lot of demands, but only a handful offer to help out. It seems you have an impossible mission and you do not get paid for all the work you do. It often is a thankless job and it is a source of a lot of heartache. Is it any wonder that union leaders can be very tempted to take short cuts? If nobody is paying any attention, it may seem, who would notice?

But, there are some places where you can never cut corners. You can't cut corners when it comes to democratic principles. If you don't adhere to strict compliance to fair election procedures, honest reporting of union funds, and communication to your constituents of what the union is doing, how can you claim to have a constituency?

In my opinion you cannot cut corners on organizing. If you are not recruiting new members and not seeking to include folks from all over your workplace in the functions of your union, how can you claim to be an organization that bargains collectively and represents equally?

I believe you cannot cut corners on communication. If you can E-mail 70% of your employees but 30% of the employees are in jobs that don't have E-mail and you just write those folks off, these are lower paid mostly minority workers without computers, how can you possibly claim any legitimacy?

I believe you cannot cut corners on representation. It is the union's responsibility to represent employees, to defend the contract through aggressive grievance handling and professional bargaining that includes work site organizing to win better rights as well as improvements in wages, hours and working conditions. Otherwise, why even have a union?

A union is not a monarchy or a secret society. Sometimes, when faced with a lot of work and an apathetic constituency it is easy to cut corners. It is hard being a union leader. But, I believe, if you cut corners on what it means to be a union then you have cut out too much. If you cut corners too deep, you will cut out the union's soul. Then, I believe, you are no good for anybody!


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