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Anyone else a union organiser?

(32 Posts)
Bproud Fri 25-Oct-13 18:54:02

I have recently been elected to lead my workplace union and would love to find others who are more experienced than me in union organisation. Could we could share tips on recruitment, and without revealing any personal information of course, talk about dealing with grievances and disciplinaries etc?

TheBeanpole Mon 28-Oct-13 15:22:35

BProud I was a union organiser in my last workplace for four (long) years. It was tough at times but I learned loads about negotiation and management as well as employment law. You also get to understand the guts of your organisation in a whole different way. I don't do it any more but would echo a lot of the points above. One thing I and my fellow rep found useful was to have 'office hours' for TU stuff- or you are constantly being interrupted in the middle of other work. We also found it useful not to rep processes that were with people in our immediate teams, so picked our casework accordingly.

Our area rep was pretty useless to be honest, but we were not a high profile industry so I suspect we did not get Unite's finest...

One of the most difficult things to communicate to people is that 'unfair' (as in not very nice for the individual) is not necessarily illegal- yes, it's horrible when you're made redundant, but if the process has been carried out correctly, there's not much we can do about it. Make sure you don't over-promise to people on those grounds- a lot of what you do will be about process rather than principle.

Also agree with TheFarSide on people hiding behind you- the amount of times we had members say they would be prepared to take industrial action on something at the outset, then lose all appetite for it as we went through the process was infuriating, because you'll put a lot of time and effort into negotiating with management with that as your final position. You then look a bit daft if that is not supported.

Another piece of advice would be to make sure boundaries are clear- you are not someone's counsellor or even their friend, and remain at a professional distance (personal fave was when someone's Dad emailed me about their grievance process). When people are upset about something at work they can't really talk about, they will stick to you like glue. You'll also have to deal with people who you think- 'yes absolutely- you should be on capability' which can be a bit tricky- again, that comes back to the process and keeping focus on that.

I am very glad I will never have to run a salary negotiation again, too...

Talkinpeace Sun 27-Oct-13 17:04:10

I am not attempting to derail the thread.
I did not realise it was on rails.

OP has taken on a role that many will chicken away from.
If she does it well with her eyes open she will be a force for good.
If she falls into mindsets like "scum management" she might as well pack her bags now.

Unions have done great things that people now take for granted, but being reminded of the past cuts little ice with the young
so, as I said earlier, OP needs to clarify what she and her cohort offer today and forwards
rather than to dwell on the past.

I strongly suspect that by posting the thread she has already taken the first step

BrownSauceSandwich Sun 27-Oct-13 08:43:28

Talkinpeace, if you want a debate about the objectives of unions, I suggest you start another thread, rather than trying to derail this one.

TheFarSide Sat 26-Oct-13 23:31:56

Bproud I agree with those who say don't let members hide behind you. When I was a union rep I got fed up with people who were angry with management behaviour but not prepared to say so publicly.

stargirl1701 Sat 26-Oct-13 23:26:46

I doubt most people currently looking for work would choose such an unstable arrangement. How are you supposed to get a mortgage on a contract like that? I think they should be against the law.

skylerwhite Sat 26-Oct-13 23:26:23

Actually, Talkinpeace, UCU does work for post-docs and PhD students. In my university they represented PhD Students in talks with uni management, improving their teaching contracts to include things like sick pay and holiday pay for the first time. And one of the issues for the strike next week is the insidious creep of zero hours contracts, and the casualisation of labour in higher ed - which disproportionately affects post-docs.

Talkinpeace Sat 26-Oct-13 23:23:27

there is nothing inherently wrong with zero hour contracts
I deliberately chose one for one of my jobs
but it was my choice and I understood it

what needs to be clamped down on is plcs using tax credits and workfare to subsidise offshore profits

stargirl1701 Sat 26-Oct-13 23:21:11

I think unions should be fighting to outlaw these zero hour contracts. It just seems like simple exploration to me.

thenightsky Sat 26-Oct-13 23:19:43

yes... I agree that human nature is what it is.

Unions now are fighting to keep the ground that has been gained and, believe me, that is getting tougher and tougher. I believe that a lot people do not understand the history behind the rights they currently have.

<un-eloquent response due to cava and voddie>

Talkinpeace Sat 26-Oct-13 23:16:02

but as you fight for pensions and tenure that are not available to new post docs, why should they support your union?

and does it not bug you that full time union officials award themselves mega salaries and pensions and perks and free houses that none of their members get any more (yes, Bob Crow I mean you)?

stargirl1701 Sat 26-Oct-13 23:15:10

No, unions are about the power of the group rather than the individual.

skylerwhite Sat 26-Oct-13 23:12:50

^Accountants are non unionised because we are all highly qualified and can argue the legs off donkeys on our own behalf.

School dinner ladies and bin men and council grounds staff are not eloquent and union reps are essential in getting the point across on their behalf.^

That's a little bit condesecending, I think. FWIW, I'm an university lecturer, am well capable of arguing my case, but see the value and importance of union membership. And I think unions should continue to shout loudly about all the benefits and rights for all workers that have stemmed from union activities in the past.

Talkinpeace Sat 26-Oct-13 23:08:26

But people will take it for granted. That is human nature.
So what are the forward objectives of unions.

Real discussion.

Accountants are non unionised because we are all highly qualified and can argue the legs off donkeys on our own behalf.

School dinner ladies and bin men and council grounds staff are not eloquent and union reps are essential in getting the point across on their behalf.

But it must be done in the context of where we are now and where we need to be : so accepting that all DB pensions are unaffordable, as are many 'perks' negotiated in the 80's and 90s
as if they are continued, the next generation will have no 'perks' at all

stargirl1701 Sat 26-Oct-13 23:03:39

Most work place reps are offered training. Talk your HQ. You need to open the union mail, hold regular meetings to update members on news coming from HQ, raise the profile of any current campaigns, check the membership list once a year, encourage new employees to join, have the contact details for paid reps if advice is needed and be a listening ear.

thenightsky Sat 26-Oct-13 22:59:52

* I don't think. they dwell in the past.

<keyboard issues>

thenightsky Sat 26-Oct-13 22:58:52

I don't they 'dwell' in the past. they continue to move forward.

Just people shouldn't take for granted that rights they have now came from nowhere. Unions did that!

Talkinpeace Sat 26-Oct-13 21:45:18

Fair points, but Unions need to dwell on what the offer now and in the future, rather than what they did in the past

BrownSauceSandwich Sat 26-Oct-13 21:41:35

Talkinpeace, really my point is that even non-unionised workplaces have reaped the benefits of union campaigns. When workers' rights are enshrined in law, there's no exemption for employers who don't recognise unions. Accountancy has benefited from union achievements just like every other profession. And while there may not a specific union for accountants, my union represents plenty of them, and my grandfather was an accountant and an active union member.

mercibucket Sat 26-Oct-13 15:29:56

Good on you
It seems to be a hard and sometimes thankless task but I admire you for doing it

Talkinpeace Sat 26-Oct-13 14:58:41

just to pick up on BrownSauce's 2nd point.

My profession is not unionised. But Accountancy is not generally regarded as being very Dickensian either.

Be open minded and alert.

AtticusMcPlatypus Sat 26-Oct-13 12:14:02

I've been a union rep for around 5 years now and wholeheartedly agree with BrownSauce's last point above. Some members I have encountered seem to think that the union can sort out all problems with the wave of a magic wand and then blame you/bad mouth you if you can't resolve the problem to their advantage. Some do expect you to do all the work whilst they sit back and do not try to resolve the problem themselves. This is the minority though, most people are completely unaware of their rights at work. I work in an industry which employs many people who often suffer from a low level of education and are not aware of their rights in the workplace which many managers are happy to take advantage of. By taking managers to task on such issues and raising awareness amongst the workforce, I feel that I've made a difference if I can help people to help themselves in future. I love it and it has given me so many life skills that I hope to be able to use when I eventually change career. Defo go on any training courses that your union offer you as I have always found these to be real eye-openers - things I would have ignored/been ignorant of pre being a rep, I now pick my employers up frequently. And you usually get to meet other people from different workplaces and you can share horror stories!!

thenightsky Sat 26-Oct-13 11:47:48

Excellent advise there from Brownsauce. Especially the very last point, which I wish someone had said to me about 10 years ago! I might have saved myself a lot of wasted time grin

BrownSauceSandwich Sat 26-Oct-13 11:18:11

Bproud - I'm a relatively recently appointed shop steward. Definitely interested in a bit of moral and practical support. smile

Things I have learnt so far:

1. Get on some union training courses, ideally in person rather than online. The big unions run lots of their own, and TUC courses are open to any reps of affiliated unions. It's a great way to build confidence, and you'll pick up tonnes of information from what your fellow learner a are doing in their workplaces.

2. Some people just hate the unions (see above) but unless they think Dickensian employment practices are something to aspire to, they probably quite like some of the stuff we've achieved over the history of the movement (safer working conditions, women's employment rights, fairer pay, terms of dismissal etc...) You can probably ignore them, and hopefully they'll go away.

3. You aren't responsible on your own... That's not how unions work. You organise your members to fight their own battles. You have the support of the rest of your branch (who may or may not work on the same site as you), so make sure you're in close contact with your other branch reps. And you have the support of head office, so make sure you use that too.

4. Members will use you as a sounding board whenever they have problems with the employer. You have to work out what's a genuine complaint, and what's just a moan to relieve feelings. A moan is perfectly valid, but doesn't always require action. Try asking "well, what have you done about it so far?" If it's not important enough for your member to take action, chances are, you don't need to either!

thenightsky Fri 25-Oct-13 21:50:17

Hi OP.

I was a Unison rep for a good few years, but recently gave up due to 'real' job getting too busy and lack of management support (promising paid back-fill and not fullfilling promise).

I have kept on the job evaluation side of things (just given up representation) and I'm in the NHS.

Any help I can offer you is gladly given smile

NK5BM3 Fri 25-Oct-13 21:46:14

I think a general attitude that doesn't say 'scum management' at everything management says and does round be a good start.

When they need to communicate they aren't always of the screw the workers genre. Sometimes companies are in deep shit and suggesting a strike doesn't really help the situation.

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