Brotherhood is Worth More…

…Than Time and a Half

I am a first year apprentice. Like everyone else in the world I have money problems. My money problem is that I don’t have enough of it to keep up with cost of living in this city. This is not going to be a long-winded complaint about my low wages though, don’t worry.

So as a broke-ass first year apprentice I look for opportunities to work overtime. Not only are the extra hours at a higher wage great, but they also help me advance to my next raise more quickly. Well recently I found myself in a position where the only right thing to do was to refuse overtime, while I watched journeymen and apprentices alike put their consciences aside and take it.

It started a couple minutes before the end of the day on a Wednesday. My foreman came up to me and asked “do you want to work on Saturday?” My immediate reply was to ask if everyone had been asked because I knew everyone wanted overtime and I thought it was strange that he asked me when I was away from everyone else. He then told me I was one of only four people on the crew that was asked to go. I felt uneasy about this, and when he told me that the overtime would be on a different jobsite I became even more uneasy about it. Unfortunately I let my money woes get the best of me and I agreed to work anyway.

The next day I had class so I was not on the jobsite, but it is my understanding that word got out about the chosen few that were asked to work overtime. When I showed up to work on Friday the journeyman that I work with seemed to be in a particularly bad mood. I didn’t want to pry so I let it be. Towards the end of the day the journeyman finally told me why he was frustrated. He (a book 1) had not been offered the overtime while a book 2 had been. He knew I had been offered the work and he told me I should take it, but he also seemed frustrated that the two other journeyman asked to work would go even while knowing that each book 1 should have been offered the overtime before the book 2 if only a limited amount of wireman would be needed.

When I was forced to confront the fact I was offered overtime and he was not I knew I would not be working that Saturday. I know that I am nothing special. I am a first year apprentice wireman. That is it. I had no more right to overtime than anyone else on the job, and in fact I had far less right to it than the seasoned journeyman who was denied the opportunity.

The journeyman I was working with insisted that I still go work Saturday because as an apprentice it is not my responsibility to hold up certain aspects of the union dogma. I considered his advice and I decided that if I could make an excuse to not do what I knew was the right thing now, I would likely be able to do the same thing later on. At the end of the day I told my foreman that I would not be able to come in on Saturday. He then asked me why not and I told him it was because I was beat. He then told me I would have to tell the project manager in a threatening tone and I responded by asking where the project manager was so I could tell him, the foreman then told me I would be doing panel work in an attempt to bait me into working on Saturday, or possibly to help me out since I told him I was beat. I told him “that sounds great…… but I’m not working.”

The following Monday I found out that the other three guys that were offered overtime indeed worked on Saturday. I also found out that not one of them did any panel work. Before break time I found myself in the material room with the foreman alone and he asked me what the real reason I didn’t work on Saturday was. I told him the truth. I told him I didn’t like the cloak and dagger way he offered overtime to some people while excluding others. He then explained that is wasn’t cloak and dagger, it was simply a misunderstanding.

As the day went on the foreman pulled the journeyman that was excluded the week before off to the side. I later found out that he was the first person to be offered overtime for the coming weekend. At the end of the day everyone on the crew was given the same opportunity to work overtime and everyone took it with the exception of the book 2, citing a personal engagement he had already committed to.

It is probably most likely that the timing of the work is what created the expanded offer of overtime, but there is a small chance that my little stand influenced it in someway. Regardless of whatever impact my actions did or didn’t have I know I slept better knowing that I stood up for what I knew was right, and that was worth a lot more to me than the 8 hours of time and half. I have always believed that virtue untested is no virtue at all. What you believe only has meaning in those moments when words are manifested into actions. Well now I can add one more virtue to my short list and begin to look for the next opportunity to add another.

Local Solidarity

In this month’s copy of Labor Notes, there is a quiz and discussion in the “Steward’s Corner” about assessing the risk of the impact Right To Work (for less) could have on your Local Union. The survey and discussion revolve around the relationship between the leadership at the Hall, representatives, stewards, and the membership. The survey is only 10 questions, but the answer for every question in regards to Local 46 was one of the two worst possibilities. For example:

“What happens when a workplace problem arises that affects many people?”…

  • (a) Members are too afraid or unaware of their rights to file a grievance, much less take collective action.
  • (b) Members call for help, but the union representative doesn’t act.
  • (c) Members call for help, and the union representative files a grievance.
  • (d) Members call for help, and the union representative works with them to make an action plan.

My answer to this question is in bold. This is just one of the 10 questions, but they all have a similar tone and they all illustrate a lack of support from the Hall. Our Local is in serious trouble when it comes to building solidarity with the membership and while we get to experience the short term repercussions of this on a daily basis, we are setting ourselves up for long term issues that could break our union if RTW finally comes to be established in Washington State.

The number of people who are not participating in our Local should be taken as a sure sign of the number of members we are at risk of losing when RTW gives them the option to stop paying dues. Around 20% of the membership are participating in our Local’s elections, that leaves 80% of the members with their hands up saying what difference does it make.  If even half of these members take that thought a step further and instead say, “why should I pay for this?”, then we are going to be in serious trouble.

We cannot sit back and hope that the election will bring a change in our leadership which will lead to increased solidarity. We have to start demanding it from the representatives in our Hall, and from our fellow brothers and sisters in the field. Let us demand that the Hall take our concerns seriously and get them out to our jobs so we can show them the issues in person.

If we don’t build solidarity in this Local, we will not only continue to lose the short game, but we will lose the long one as well.