Category Archives: Local Issues

Quantity vs Quality

Or is it Organize vs Represent?

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, like the majority of unions, has a tremendous focus on organizing workers into their Union under the premise of building market share. With new membership comes a greater share of the market, increased dues collection, and increased worker strength in contract negotiations. These characteristics hold true in an environment where employers are forced to be closed shops. Meaning that all of their workers who fall under the scope of the contract agreement with the Union, are required to be dues paying members.

In Right to Work (RTW) States, organizing an employer does not necessarily mean that all of the members will pay their fare share, and the ability to keep an employer signatory to a contract agreement is in constant peril. RTW States do not require employees to pay their fair share and they have recertification procedures which create huge hurdles for the Unions who are operating there. This dynamic leads Unions in these locals to the question of how to attract workers and win them over to being full dues paying members.

Do you focus your energy on Organizing new workers to account for attrition, or do you develop higher quality representation to turn those workers into dependable members?

If the 9th District Progress meetings of the past have been any indicator, the focus is on organizing new members and signing new contractors. All of the metrics which account for “progress” in the 9th District are focused on the organizing success and or failure of the constituent Locals. Numbers reflecting member engagement, such as participation levels at meetings or during votes, are absent from the powerpoint presentations and speakers. The focus on Organizing is of seeming paramount importance in the struggle against member attrition and market share development.

Unfortunately, this focus on organizing will not hold up when RTW makes its way into the remaining states which have yet to adopt it. When workers are given a choice of paying dues or not they will ask themselves, “What am I getting for my money?”. Currently the answer to this question is ultimately a lack of representation, an unenforced contract, and more organized workers to compete against for the next job. How many times have you seen a representative come out to your workplace when an election wasn’t right around the corner? Are the terms of the agreed to contract violated on a daily basis, by you, your coworkers, and or your employer? We need as many workers as we can get right now, so the third item listed above doesn’t play out currently, but be assured some will be thinking about it when times get lean again.

According to http://www.ibew46.org/our_team.html there are currently seven representatives in Local 46 for 5200+ members. That is over 740 members for every 1 representative. It is not possible for the number of representatives that we have, to be able to handle this many members effectively. The current membership is under represented, and there is an underlying resentment for paying dues without a justifiable level of representation on the jobs. This does not appear to be changing dynamic either, as the number of unpaid representatives (Stewards) remains in the single digits, and as the Leadership is focused on extending Organizing dues for another three years. The current representation model that has been implemented will be hard pressed to keep those that are concerned about being represented paying dues when RTW becomes a reality. There will be a dramatic cut off in the amount of dues collected as the membership is disenfranchised with the level of representation, tired of unenforced contracts, and fearful of having to compete with more workers for the same jobs.

Ultimately, the members are the customers that the Hall is in place to provide services for. The Hall has agreed to provide members with contract enforcement through representation and job opportunities through organizing. If the product that the Hall is producing only includes job opportunities, then the members who are buying for representation, will stop paying dues when given the choice. They will question what is the point of paying dues to an organization which is focused on bringing in more workers for them to compete against, when the Hall won’t provide significant representation and fight for the fair treatment of the members they currently have.

The end product of Local 46 has been too focused on organizing and needs to shift to representation as its primary focus. RTW is on the horizon whether workers and their unions want it or not. If the Local continues to focus the majority of its dues on organizing, then it will not be able to provide justification for those that question the level of representation they are buying with their dues payments. To remain competitive and to keep the funding up so LU 46 can afford to pursue organizing efforts, they must increase representation and turn the focus to customer satisfaction. The membership must become the primary focus of their Hall, and the quality of the representation must be increased substantially to keep them.

The costs of providing representation at levels more reasonable than 740 to 1, does not have to be substantial. There is a huge opportunity to drastically change the amount of representation that the membership experiences by simply appointing Stewards. At the time of this writing there is 7-8 currently appointed stewards for the Inside Wire unit of LU 46. There is way more than 7-8 job sites, which leaves thousands of members without daily representation on their jobs. By appointing Stewards, the Business Manager of LU 46 could show the membership that he too is concerned about providing the membership the representation it deserves, while keeping costs in check by hiring more and more staff to try and address the issues.

IBEW LU 46 should appoint Stewards on every job possible, and put more of the memberships dues money into providing the representation they are paying for.

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.

 

Where is the Rank & File?

Granted, this post is being made ahead of the meeting tonight, but our past turnout shows that there is little involvement by the membership. There has been no effort by the Hall to organize the Rank & File, and CORE 46 is still trying to make inroads with the most vocal, there will be a low turnout tonight as well.

Unfortunately, members have been led to believe that they should just rely on the Leadership they have elected at the Hall to protect their interests. Whose responsibility is it really though? The Leadership is acting on what they believe is in the best interest of the membership from their perspective, NOT from yours! The members need to hold the Leadership of our Local accountable, and push them in the direction that serves the membership first.

Time and again, the members put in motions which are ignored by our Leadership. This type of leadership is what causes members to say “What is the point? The Hall will do it anyway!” Do you really think they would if the membership was holding its own rallies or pickets in front of the offices of both the Local and NECA? Don’t try and pretend that the pension issues are just from NECA. Tosh told the membership not to put more than $1 into the pension even though the Actuary said we needed $1.83.

It is actually the last raise allocation which is now being cited as the reason we are not being given a 30,000 hour retirement option. The membership “choose” to only put $1 into the pension even though the Actuary said more was needed. Yea, and this was done at the “advise” of your Leadership.

We need to organize the Rank & File, and the Hall isn’t going to do it. If we don’t do it, we should expect to continue to give up more benefits and get lousy contracts.

Vacation Account Forfeiture?

Wow. I really thought that the “Vacation Deduction” from our Wage & Benefits package was still part of our Wage & Benefits. The latest letter received from the Board of Trustees at the Puget Sound Electrical Workers Vacation Allowance Plan have decided that an account shall now be considered dormant after 24 months of inactivity. Apparently it was 36 months before this change, but the length of inactivity for dormancy isn’t the biggest issue here. The big story is the FORFEITURE OF YOUR MONEY when your account is classified as dormant. The Trustees seem to think it is perfectly fine to TAKE YOUR MONEY if your account is dormant. I guess they figure they can take it if you are going to spend it anyway…

I sure thought Washington State has laws about “unclaimed property” in “dormant accounts”… oh wait, they do… RCW 33.20.130 Dormant Accounts

When any savings member shall have neither paid in nor withdrawn any funds from his or her savings account in the association for seven consecutive years, and his or her whereabouts is unknown to the association and he or she shall not respond to a letter from the association inquiring as to his or her whereabouts, sent by registered mail to his or her last known address, the association may transfer his or her account to a “Dormant Accounts” fund. Any savings account in the “Dormant Accounts” fund shall not participate in the earnings of the association except by permissive action of the directors of the association. The member, or his or her or its executor, administrator, successors or assigns, may claim the amount so transferred from his or her account to the dormant accounts fund at any time after such transfer. Should the association be placed in liquidation while any savings account shall remain credited in the dormant accounts fund and before any valid claim shall have been made thereto, as hereinabove provided, such savings account so credited, upon order of the director and without any other escheat proceedings, shall escheat to the state of Washington.

I wonder if this change has anything to do with the removal of the “Vacation Deduction” column from the latest Area Wage Report? The more I pay attention, the more I don’t trust the Trustees.

 

Vote Tabled 3 Months

Last night the Hall held a special meeting for a vote on changes to our pension plan. Tosh stated again how he would follow the wishes of the membership, but it was clear from the very beginning that would only be true if the membership agrees with 45000 hours for retirement. A CORE 46 member put together a proposal that exceeding the Actuary’s recommendation but this proposal was the very first thing that Tosh discredited and blocked at the start of the meeting. Clearly for Tosh, it is 45000 hours despite his rhetoric about following what the membership wants. Proposals that contradict this are not welcome.

As the meeting progressed, one of the members from the floor became fed up with the discussion and lack of information for other (read not 45K) proposals. So he wrote up a motion to table the vote on changing the pension rules. Some immediately see this as kicking the can down the road, others such as myself see this as an opportunity to try and engage more members about this issue and build a bigger presence in our fight against the change to 45K.

Keep in mind that the wage allocation vote is still on for Wednesday the 9th of December.

 

Minutes – November 2016

Meeting called to order at 4:30pm 11/18/2016

  • Finance report given. We have limited funds, but have enough to cover the cost of producing generic business cards for advertising with.
  • Discussed the proposed changes to the Pension
  • 46JobTalk.org resurfaced as a discussion topic. Would be great to promote it as an online destination for members to build an online community.
  • The 90 Day Rule Motion was passed at the last General Meeting. It will give members 7 days to quit a job without losing their number of the books. Only one member voted against the motion, and it was later revealed that he has never had to quit or been out of work for more than 20 years.
  • ESU (Electrical Sisters United) is trying to get more members involved with their group and improve the organization of their committee. It is a work in progress
  • The upcoming Local elections were discussed, candidates for Business Manager was the main topic of discussion.
  • Internal organizing members to join and or like CORE 46. Some success at work sites with asking members to join our mailing list.
  • Meeting adjourned at 5:30pm

 

Uptick in Dissent

There has been quite a bit of frustration and talk on the job and outside of the Hall lately. I believe that there is a real need for a Rank & File group to develop and put pressure on the Hall and NECA. Fortunately, that is what this group is all about. If you feel that there is a need for this kind of group, please swing by our monthly meeting at Dick’s Restaurant on lower Queen Anne. This month we are meeting on the 18th from 4:30 – 6pm. If attending a meeting is not up your alley, or you just don’t have the time, please sign up for our mailing list so we can keep you in the loop.

Stewards Monthly Meeting – Not So Fast

Last month the membership of IBEW Local 46 unanimously voted to have a monthly Stewards meeting.  Yesterday, I received an announcement from the Hall, that the Stewards meeting will be quarterly. Why does the Hall refuse to listen to the membership? Why are Stewards being blocked from meeting more regularly? The Motorcycle club meets monthly… is that more important than organizing the Stewards in the Local?