News and Events
YOU NEED TO KNOW: Union Ambush Elections
What is an Ambush Election? What is the EFCA?
In 2009, the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would have caused 3 major outcomes for Employees/Employers:
section 2 would eliminate the need for an additional ballot to require an employer recognize a union, if a majority of workers have already signed cards expressing their wish to have a union
section 3 would require that an employer begins negotiating with a union with a view to reaching a collective agreement within 90 days, and if not, the two sides will be referred to compulsory mediation, and if mediation fails, binding arbitration
section 4 increases the penalties on employers who subject workers to detriment for being involved in a union.
As a consolation prize, unions are now looking forward to an Ambush Election, which will shorten the campaign period so by the time the employer knows there is a petition filed, they will only have 19 days from the filing date to educate employees on the dangers of unionization. This would also mandate employers to provide the Excelsior List to the union within 2-days. An excelsior list is a list of employees names and addresses. Under this new rule, the excelsior list will HAVE to include any other information the employer has for the employee including, but not limited to, e-mail address, cell phone number and home phone number.
Employers need to be prepared for what comes next. The Ambush Election will also demand that the employer will need to have initial hearing within 7-days. While the unions will have months to provide workers with its own side of the issues without employer responses and file the petition when they feel the time is ready.
Smaller businesses will suffer tremendously. Many small businesses do not have on-staff labor counsel and would have extremely limited time to hire counsel and/or labor consultants and get the legal advise necessary during the election process.
THIS RULING SEVERELY UNDERMINES EMPLOYERS’ RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH AND TO EXPRESS THEIR FEELINGS ON THE ELECTION IN THEIR FACILITIES. THE BOARD’S PROPOSAL IS TO INCREASE UNION ORGANIZING AND DUES REVENUE, OF COURSE THIS IS AT THE EXPENSE OF EMPLOYEES. THIS WILL LIMIT THE TIME THAT AN EMPLOYER CAN DISCUSS THE “OTHER SIDE” TO UNION ORGANIZING. HOW CAN EMPLOYEES MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS WITHOUT HEARING BOTH SIDES?
Of course the Unions support this NLRB action. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a recent statement, “Similar rules were adopted by the NLRB more than two years ago after an exhaustive public rule making process. The rules were needed then, and they are still needed now.”
Will Employers be ready for the new ambush elections? Are you prepared? Do you know how to insulate your organization?
Union Prevention is the only way to keep your finger on the pulse of your facility. There are many programs geared towards keeping you a step ahead of the union organizing push.
How can your employee handbook affect a union election?
Did you know that the NLRB can ask for a copy of your employee handbook? During any union activity in your facility, the union can request a copy of your employee handbook. The problem for employers is that this handbook can be used against them.
What does your handbook say about wearing pins,t-shirts, buttons or anything considered “non-uniform” issued? In a recent decertification case, the union filed a charge claiming that the employee handbook discouraged employees from wearing anything that wasn’t company issued forms of acceptable attire and therefore discouraged legal organizing activity. Their argument raised a very serious issue for employers. Although this particular case was not overturned and the union was decertified, the issue has become a serious one for employers. Can the employee handbook work against the employer?
It would be wise at this point for companies to look for legal counsel and/or consultants to take a look at your handbook. Is your handbook “union-proof” and would it stand up to the scrutiny from a union? Make sure your handbook has the appropriate language and disclaimers. Be sure that it states somewhere that any policy is NOT intended to interfere with NLRA rights.
Safety and Prevention are more necessary now than ever before. NLC can provide many positive, and extremely cost effective ways, to insulate your organization. Most of our consultants are former union organizers and that’s how your company gets the best benefit. Who better to know how a union is working behind the scenes then the former organizers themselves. We can give your organization the insight it needs and give your management team the tools it will need to stay a step ahead of the organizing push. Don’t become prey for the next organizing push.
Call NLC to find out how to protect your organization today. Taking the proper steps now is the most cost effective investment you will make for your company. It can save you a tremendous amount of money fighting the union later.
THE REAL STORIES OF ORGANIZING
As we sat around the table looking over the calls and messages from employees across the 5 boroughs, I decided that we were going to take the biggest institution and start from there. While the smaller places also represented dues and money, the challenge was in the facility with 2000 employees. The challenge was that there were 2 failed attempts in the prior 10 years by other unions. However, with the right game plan and the right strategy, 2000 employees would be ours. The amount of money and membership this campaign would generate would hold the pressure from the higher ups in the International Union off for a long while to come if we could pull this off. This was a lot of money.
STEP 1: Declare WAR
The declaration of war was not a public declaration, but it was a strategic game plan we would follow. We often called it simply, how do we build up the emotion in the workforce. What are the problems? What is the population? How do we own the messages? How do we become the vindicators of the people?
STEP 2: SALTS
We had a team of people composed of RN’s, nursing assistants, housekeepers, dietary, etc. I called them all in and had the first salting meeting, giving them instruction. It was simple, go apply for jobs at the hospital and make it to orientation. As a RN, I would do the same. I was new to the union organizing team, and I knew that this hospital would not know my name yet. We set up dummy phone numbers so that when the references were called on the application, we would have organizers provide the references personally. No one in management is smart enough to verify a phone number.
As expected, 14 of us, including myself made it through the application process and began orientation. My job as a salt was simpler: Get the ID of the hospital and then get the creative department to duplicate it and make ID’s for all of the organizing team. This would give us free access to the facility at will. Put on some scrubs and walk around, no one would stop us or question us. The place was too large.
The other salts would work their respective jobs, getting paid by the facility and getting a second salary from the union. Our fee was $200 extra per day. They would identify core union supporters (and possibly offer them additional money to help organize) and of course gather schedules, policies, phone lists, etc while working. Their job would also be to stay until the election process was over so that our people would be eligible to vote.
STEP 3: Meetings
Other organizers were given the names of employees who had initially called us. At the meetings, which begin as one on one or small groups, these are done at local diners or coffee shops. Primary focus is to learn the issues. What are the emotional issues. In this particular case, some of the issues included short staffing (as usual), favoritism, managers that didn’t speak well to employees, and of course unit issues such as “fumes smells in the operating rooms.” Who knows what issues are real and what aren’t. The bottom line is PERCEPTION IS REALITY. If they believe it, the organizer focuses on it and makes it worse.
Make it a STEALTH campaign. While we want this to spread, we have to ensure and train the employees one on one or in small groups that this has to be kept secret to management. “Management is not trustworthy.” Do your jobs and get supporters one at a time. We meet them all. The organizers are given units to look after and departments to oversee. Our job was to identify the leaders of the employees. We wanted the best workers, the workers with no disciplines, the workers that all look up to. These are the people that lead the movement.
STEP 4: Research
As the union, we have a research team. These are not the organizers, but a team of administrative people that just do research. Look up the company profiles, names of the executive team, their salaries, their profits, the financials, etc. All of this research is obtained and reviewed thoroughly so it is utilized at the right moments.
Back at headquarters, we set up the war room. We would start papering the walls with everyone’s names, positions, titles, tenure, etc. This included management personnel. We had to live and breathe and know what they were thinking before they did. The messages are developed and created. At this particular facility, the emotions were at an all time high. We would embark on favoritism and the management disrespect of the employees. Everything else fell into that category. If there were fumes smells in the OR, then we would begin to file complaints to the DOH and OSHA. In addition, this hospital was applying for magnet status, so we knew we would have to think of some ULP’s to file at the right moment to block the application. One of the questions for magnet status ask if there are any impending ULP’s. We were ready. This would take months, but we were ready and prepared. The people were in place, the issues were coming in, and the SALTs were gathering information.
Phase 2 would begin soon enough…
ORGANIZING PHASE 2
As the information came flooding in, the meetings with the salting teams were done weekly. Calls were done daily if not more frequently. The research team had all of the information we needed. Now we needed names of employees and job titles. We needed shifts and units. We needed working times and we needed the map of the facility.
THE MAP: It is what it is called. We mapped the facility. Every unit, every room, every inch of the building. Not only did the information come from the salts, but also you have to remember that all of us organizers had ID’s made by creative media. Fake names, real ID. Wear some scrubs and throw a stethoscope on and no one us stopping us in a big hospital. We would hang around all day. Wander the hallways. Map the building. Most importantly, we would mark security rounds. Where was security posted and when did they come to certain units. We would mark when different shifts or groups of people went to breaks. We would note which employees ate together and which employees ate separate. And now the most important of all… WHO WAS MANAGEMENT AND WHAT WERE THEIR HOURS?
Hate to admit it as I look back, but we would follow management out of work and into work. We needed to know when they came and went. Their routine would be ours. We knew where they lived, not for any kind of physical threat, but just in case, we would notate their street name and some of their personal life in the event we needed a psychological weapon. We wanted management to be docile and not fight us. And we would do that by ANY MEANS NECESSARY.
VOLUNTEER ORGANIZING COMMITTEE (VOC): Remember the union goal, our goal, was to get at least 10 percent of the potential bargaining unit on the VOC. These were the leaders of the organizing campaign. Not only would they lead the campaign, but they would have to believe in the cause. These could not be disgruntled workers or workers with disciplinary issues. These had to be leaders. These had to be the best workers, the people the other workers would follow. Most of management thinks a union campaign is about money. It cant be about money. We needed emotional issues. We needed issues that the public would understand once we started the public campaign.
Most importantly, the VOC would now be inoculated. This meant going through the book. Yes the organizers have a book that lists item by item everything that management or the lawyers or the union busters would say. They could keep the statements flowing one campaign to the next, but no one knew what we did. Those consultants and lawyers used the same videos and slide shows all the time. No one really knew. And now we would build a team of internal employees who would knock down every statement and eventually test management. Testing management meant making management make mistakes. Make them look ignorant and make them do something that we could file unfair labor practice charges. We actually didn’t need anything concrete. At this point, we knew who management was, who were the sympathizers, the self centered, the incompetent, the non caring, and of course the good ones. All would be exploited except the good managers, For the good respected managers, these are the ones we would have to personally introduce ourselves to in front of their homes when the time was right. We needed them to know we knew where they lived.
CARD SIGNING: Card signing began when we had all units and job titles in place. Then and only then does card signing begin. Ideally we preferred all potential members come to the meetings or have small meetings in their homes or the home visits. If that couldn’t be done, the VOC was allowed to get the cards signed on their own. However, signing a card was a COMMITMENT. Our rule was simple, no one signs a card unless they are committed to vote YES. They had to know what we would be doing as the union. Most of management believe people are forced into signing a card. However, quite contrary, workers want to sign cards. Our job was to make the signing more attractive. What could we sell to the potential members? The answer was simple. HOPE. Hope was simply anything the employees wanted to hear. What was the goal? All unions, including ours, was no different, we needed 65 to 70 percent. It didn’t matter that the NLRB wants 30%. We don’t want to lose. We want as many as possible. With this large unit, we needed that 70%. In smaller campaigns, we would strive for 80%.
Of course all of this card signing would be done under covert ops (stealth campaign). No one in management can find out about card signing. Ideally if we hit a certain percentage, which was usually 60%, then and only then would we come out. However, most of the time, we didn’t want to come out until the petition was filed. However with a large unit like this, it was inevitable someone would talk so the goal was to have 60% and then begin the corporate and public campaigns. At that point we would also file the charges to block magnet status and the VOC would begin the literature campaign. However, what management didn’t know and never figured out, the literature wasn’t for the workforce, it was to keep the lawyers and consultants and management team answering us and keeping their eyes off the prize. Cards were coming in steady and more quickly than expected. At the 2 months mark we sat at around 50%…
Part 3 to follow…
UNION LIFE BEGINS
When I was a RN in the ICU, I was approached by the union business agent. She asked me if I would join the negotiating committee for the union. At the time, the nurses were represented by the State Nurses Association. I didn’t give it much thought except maybe I can make a little difference if I sat at the table. To date, the negotiations were stagnant and most of us were frustrated with the progression of the events. We needed that contract settled and we wanted our raises. The contract had expired and we knew that a strike vote was looming over our heads.
So off to negotiations, but I had little training. In the first set of negotiations, I was told very clearly, “Do not speak.” If you have anything on your mind, please write it down and pass a note to the business agent (in the state nurses association they fancied their name as the nurse representative). I can remember sitting there and listening to the session and knowing that the other nurses had no idea of the process. It wasn’t management not wanting the deal. Rather, our VP of Nursing did not want the clause in the contract that the hospital terminate nurses who did not pay dues. Quite simply, she did not want that responsibility to fall on the hospital and believed that the nurses should pay dues only if they wanted to. This was our first contract, and so far over 16 months post election, we were restless. We had thought the contract would be swift and simple. The organizing team of the union did not tell us the length of time it would take and didn’t tell us the issues involved.
As I sat there, I was shocked that the union was still arguing over the placement of a bulletin board in the hospital and the location. In a weird twist we already had found out that there were about a dozen or so employees who were nurses working at the facility prior to the election, but were really union organizers. When I had personally found out, I thought the process was interesting, sneaky, but necessary. Bottom line is that we needed to band together because in health care, none of us would take each others back. Everyone was out for themselves and the union was the only way to unify us for a common cause. I know now that the belief was a sign of our own weaknesses but at the time it sounded good.
I believed in the cause. Most interesting at the time was the per diem issue but I even let that go. Per diems or casuals were not addressed in the contract and though most of my friends were casuals, I realized that the fight was meaningless. The union wanted them to pay dues but they were only entitled to a per diem rate, nothing else. But even at that point it was ok. I was given the opportunity to go into the Manhattan offices and train as a shop steward. I learned the ins and outs of the grievance procedure. Most importantly, they taught me how to take charge. They taught me how to make management answer to me. I was empowered. I was higher that management. I would make management answer me for their
decisions. That was my job.
Time went on the first year, and I realized that as time went on, my power increased. I actually had the power to take away disciplines. Management believed that I was more powerful than them. I was taught to live Perception is Reality, and management came to me for permission to write people up. I was not management, I was a shop steward and management asked me permission. It did not get better than that.
Then, the encounter with the State Nurses Association organizing team came after my second year as a shop steward. The organizers were back in the facility because it was time to do campaigning for a second contract. This time, I was asked to do a covert project for the union at another facility on off days and shifts. Being a 12 hours nurse, I jumped at the opportunity, especially since they offered me an extra $200 plus expenses per day. What was this project?
I was told the covert team was the SALT team. I didn’t know what that meant except it was a pro union project that would unify more nurses and make nursing standards better as more nurses were unionized. Plus there was the extra money…..I was in….and so training began…
ORGANIZING PART 3
And so the final push was on for cards. We made a decision as an organization that it was time to begin a rise into the public. We wanted voluntary recognition. We didn’t want an NLRB election. But we had some obstacles:
1) A well respected DON. We were told repeatedly that the DON was respected and some nurses felt an allegiance to her.
2) Decent staffing ratios. Usually a major gripe and emotional issue wasn’t a gripe at all. In fact, this hospital went overboard to ensure there were decent nurse/patient ratios.
3) We didn’t know whom the Labor and Delivery nurses were. The unit was on lock down and the nurses came to work in plains clothes. Their schedules were supposedly ideal and as a nurse, I knew this to be true. The mother baby unit was always in their own world.
We would handle the issues, but at that time we had to make a decision. At a little more than 50% was it time to explode out of the box and make ourselves visible? The answer was an overwhelming YES. It was time to infiltrate. So Monday would be the first step. We would ship out members and organizers and start the phone calls that Monday at 11am, we were passing out purple shirts outside and we would storm the building and march into the cafeteria. We would have 150 people there. But first, a few unfair labor practices would be a good distraction. The hospital was applying for magnet status so what better way to make them cave in but to block their application with magnet status.
Second, we set up a CE class for the nurses. We would offer it to everyone and then, present it for free. The nurses would get their CE’s but most importantly we would get some nurses who we didn’t have signed up yet and get the face to face time that was so crucial. Worst case scenario, most of us already knew that part of the sign in sheet at the meeting can be turned into a petition merely by filtering the nurses who had not signed cards yet to sign in on a different pad. We would stick the last page on if necessary. Whatever it takes to get to the percentage. This campaign was running quickly and the hospital would not have the time to fight it.
The issue of the DON would be the last one we would tackle on the Friday preceding our march into the building. That was my personal task. I would follow her home, get out of the car and introduce myself to her as the union organizer. Just a simple hello was the only act necessary. But most importantly she would know that we, the union, knew where she lived. She would be shocked that her staff was on the verge of unionizing. She knew nothing before that.
Friday went off like a charm. I can still remember seeing the fear and disbelief in her eyes. She asked if I was threatening her. And I simply replied and asked her if she felt that her staff wanting to unionize posed a threat to her. She was speechless. Oh I know her weekend was destroyed, but on Monday the march would begin. Keep in mind this was not just nursing this was a wall to wall – everyone, every job title.
On Monday we began our assembly about a block away. We had already heard that management was having meetings with employees and they knew what they needed to because of my talk with the DON. Employees were showing up in numbers. Purple and red shirts were being handed out. No noise-makers, no troublemakers. The organizing team was holding the lines. 2 lines. We had about 200 people. At least 100 were actual employees while the others were members from neighboring facilities. The march was on. I will never forget the feeling of marching down the block and the Union Strong chant behind me. Security was at the door but we knew 2 guards could not stop 200. Plus, and keep this in mind, the cafeteria is a public area, so they couldn’t stop us anyway.
We marched in, took the long way to the cafeteria on that second floor. Went up the stairs and sat in the cafeteria. It was a sea of union activity. The people were now empowered. The people who we did not see yet couldn’t help but say hello. And we had the cards ready to sign. Motto was “you are either in, or in our way.” They were in. Cards were flying and we knew at that point we were nearing the 70% mark. Management came into the cafeteria and we challenged them to a debate. They wanted us out but we had all decided to eat lunch there. It was a public cafeteria and we were just well, hungry. What were they afraid of anyway?
The real question was; would they actually try to fight us or would we get voluntary recognition? The next few days would be interesting…
UNION LIFE PART 2
Training as a SALT was interesting at first. It was a spying job. A spying job that paid an extra $200 per shift plus expenses on top of the pay I was making as a nurse. I brought a few friends with me to the first training. The union was more than happy to pay them as well. Most importantly, aside from the money, we did believe. We held the belief that only the union can fix the problems that nursing was experiencing.
The union could get the nurses staffing language, better pay, better health benefits, and more respect. Respect was what it was all about. I would never, not take a patient, but at least someone could say thank you every now and then. We were never particularly happy with the “doctors only” parking spot. Why should a doctor get a special spot or special chair. We were the nurses; we were the ones that held everything together. No doctor was going to walk into my ICU and think that I should move my seat because they were present. The landscape was changing and the hospital and management teams had better be on board. While we gave healthcare daily, why should we pay anything for it when we went to a doctor or for a procedure. Change was coming and with the union, they would take us a bit more seriously.
I can remember reading the manual and doing the classes on learning about the SALT. It was pretty simple, once we were in the facility, our job was to gather as much information as possible. Map the facility, photocopy phone lists, name the employees, shifts, job titles, policies and procedures and the summary of benefits. Part of the job was also to list the management team and evaluate them as a manager. Were they one of the employees’ friends or were they strict? Were they ever present on the floor? Were they hands on and did they help? Did they constantly go out for smoke breaks? Eventually our job would be to put them in situations to test them out and test their ability to manage.
The life of the SALT began right with the application process. At first, we would apply for jobs and the union had phone lines set up as job references. We realized early on that no one really checked the references. All facilities would need per diems on staff to fill vacancies. Looking back now, one would say it was deceitful and it was. But we can also assume management never did their due diligence. If they had, eventually the SALT team or people would have been detected.
Job after job went by and things were going well. I was a FT union member. It took us a little while to get the contract, but nothing is created on the first round of a contact. I also had dues waived and was granted super seniority as the President of the internal union chapter. Management came to me for disciplines and asked my permission to do write ups. Can you imagine? The contract called for a grievance procedure yet management figured that in order to avoid that process, come to me first. I would give my nod or say no. I have to thank them for that but looking back, that management team didn’t know that the union didn’t run a facility.
Somewhere into my third year, I realized salting could be a lot easier. We could maintain covert activity and get into places, but the application process could be faster. I remember looking into our own hospitals staffing problem and the management team calling in agency nurses. The solution was in front of my face. I would meet with the agency personally. I would offer up the team of salts to the agency in return to place us where the union wanted us. I pitched the idea to the organizers and they gave it the okay. I made an appointment and went down to meet with the first agency. I went no further. In exchange for the 40 nurses to work for the agency, he agreed to place us where we needed to be. No questions asked. Everyone would be happy. The agency had more nurses on call, which meant more money. Our reference was the agency. And the union would get us to be in the places they desired to organize.
THERE WOULD BE NO STOPPING US FROM ORGANIZING WHEREVER WE WANTED TO GO!
YOU NEED TO KNOW
With the current union abuse that we have discussed in previous news and NLRB news and the fear that employees may now be under obligation to pay union dues after only a 14-day election period, it is not
a surprise that employees are completely fed up. We are seeing employees come forward and ask more questions. “Why do we HAVE to pay union dues?” “Why are we not being given a chance to talk to our employer?” As employees begin to ask more questions, unions are coming up with more strategies.
Unions are pushing to have the election campaign period shortened to as short as a 14-day period. According to “National Law Review, Final NLRB Ambush Election rule” article, private sector union membership rates are at a historical low. Unions are on the move to boost their membership, but obviously not their approval ratings. Rather than actually trying to work with employees and employers to make positive changes in the workplace, they are forcing an election so it increases their chances of a win. By the time a union makes its presence known to an employer, they have already infiltrated the workforce. The new law is set to become effective on April 14, 2015. Some organizations have asked for the court to vacate the rule but no decisions have been made.
Employers cannot simply do the same things they always did. Management is running to save the what should have been prevented all along and it’s like running in a hamster wheel. Employers need to get ahead of this by employing union prevention methods, employee engagement and on boarding techniques.
Labor Consulting firms and Labor Law firms have the skills and background to help companies right now. Don’t let the union get to your employees before you do.
From 2002-2010 the median time between petition and election was approximately 38-40 days. Now, although it doesn’t mandate that all elections happen within that time period, unions will have that option. The article went on to say, “This new ruling has been noted as the board’s most aggressive use ever of regulatory power to accomplish objectives advocated by organized labor and private sector employers should be prepared to see more union organizing activity….Employers should consider proactive measures to prepare for a higher risk of organizing, including proactive human resources practices, the cultivation of a positive workplace culture, regular supervisor training in employee relations, and communication to employees regarding how a union in the workplace can affect them. Effective communications with employees to cement the relationship between employees and the employer and build employee trust also will be essential.”
Employees have taken notice. It didn’t come as a surprise that employees are looking to decertify in some facilities including the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., NBC affiliate in Las Vegas filed a petition to decertify the IBEW. The NLRB officially revoked the original certification of IBEW and the employee representative. Employees felt that the IBEW wasn’t representing them and they proceeded. Labor Law Firms and Consulting Firms believe that there will be an increase in decertification petitions in the coming year and that employers have a tremendous opportunity to engage with employees.
It is rare that employers have an opportunity to build this type of awareness. Unions have been used in the past as a threat to employers. When there is a management issue in the workplace, employees use that union petition as a weapon to sway decisions in their direction or to have management treat them differently. Now, employers and employees seem to be building a force against the unions. This opportunity becomes a Human Resource issue. Are employers going to use or lose this grand opportunity to build the relationships with employees?
So, where to begin? Employers should be “getting in touch” with employees. Build focus groups based on employees’ interests to find out how to make improvements. Pot-luck lunches and team building exercises are always helpful.
Meetings. Not just the mandatory meetings, but begin holding meetings to get feedback from your workforce. The front line employees usually have ideas that they don’t know they are allowed to discuss or don’t think anyone will listen to. Taking the time to listen to these ideas gives employees a boost of confidence but did you know that it is proven to increase productivity?
Employees rarely know this but, employee engagement is NOT a mandatory subject of bargaining with the union. Meaning that those HR promises that unions are very good at promising are not subjects that unions are permitted to discuss. If the issues don’t include hours, wages or conditions, unions cannot bring up in negotiations so again, this is a precious time for employers to make employees feel safe in the workplace.
UNION LIFE PART 3
As time passed, it was always interesting that we had to work first as nurses and healthcare workers. We began to perfect the system of taking the most pro union employees and giving them incentive money as well. Imagine a CNA or housekeeper making an extra $1000 per week.
Most management never understands how important it is to especially lock their doors to their office or shred their paper before it hits the garbage pail. They were usually unaware that we would be “dumpster diving,” looking for their confidential information and/ or literally going thru their office when they left it. It was never hard to give environmental staff some extra money to get into the offices. Sometimes we would know the facility had paper shredding companies and we would leave it to the union officials to cut the deal with the truck drivers who emptied the bins and meet them off location for a few hundred bucks to go thru their garbage prior to it reaching the shredding location. It was always interesting from facility to facility that no one ever knew at any facility how the union had access to certain information.
I can remember once being a nursing supervisor at a hospital and being a SALT. The access that I was granted was incredible. In fact, we had reached a point of organizing that I took it upon myself to start the card signing on the inside. It was a gut feeling that I had, but I know the people were ready. It was never hard to take an unhappy worker and make the emotion greater. In healthcare, to create more emotion was to increase workload. This was laughable as all I had to do was get to the person who did the schedule. Once the scheduler could create the holes and make people work harder and short staffed, the workers were more and more angry and would look to the union as the answer. Almost like the workers believed the union had a special staffing bus in the parking lot where workers would pop out in case more staffing was necessary.
In the next few posts, I will review what the emotions were based on and the issues we would concentrate on to upset the workforce so the union looked the Vindicator!
Organizing Part 4
Sitting in that cafeteria and watching management get angry was one of the lasting moments I can remember from that campaign. Remember, this a place that had been attempted before. Between this power move and the old “left handed signatures,” I knew that we would be requesting voluntary recognition within the week. Just so happens, the following Monday was a holiday so though we would request voluntary recognition, someone would already be en route to the NLRB with the petition and filing it at 4:45pm on Friday. That would mean the hospital would not find out until at least till the following Tuesday and we would gain a few extra days.
As expected, I personally marched into the executive offices on that Friday and demanded voluntary recognition and gave them a time frame. I told them that they had 1 week to answer to voluntary. In their minds, they believed they had a week to respond to me. In my mind, the petition was being filed at the NLRB anyway so they were still off balance.
The following week, the last stage of the war of organizing began. The hospital had already hired a law firm we were familiar with and knew their tactics and of course a few dynamic consultants. For some reason, the consultants thought that showing videos from the 1970’s and of violence and strikes were effective enough to stop a movement. In my day of organizing, we made sure all potential members knew that a strike was a tool the union uses. If you cannot strike or have the fortitude to walk out the door, please do not bother to be an employee at the facility once we won the election. We also made it clear to all potential members that we did not engage in violence. That was the movies or what we called the out of control EMPLOYEES on certain campaigns. No organizer or union official wanted to risk going to jail. It is psychological war. But for some unknown reason, the consultant group thought slide shows and video tapes would work. Better for us. Their tactics were our laughs.
Our committee consisted of about 20 percent of the unit. That’s a lot of people in this large bargaining unit. We told them to go to the meetings. Waste the time, get paid, and at the end of the videos or slide shows get up and ask in front of everyone, “what are you afraid of?” I personally made sure that in almost every meeting at least one female would cry. Nothing like a crying female who feels intimidated by the consultant to stop the meetings. We even threw in a few sexual harassment claims. Why not? Keep them off balance.
Now for the paper was. Most facilities think that large 11 by 17 paper double sided in all languages was effective and the people would read it. Maybe basic classes for communication escaped them. These were workers on the move; short simple statements is what they would read. Our literature we sent into the hospital was not for the employees to read. The long winded letters and colorful flyers was for management to react. And they did. They were responding to our literature everyday. Made it even easier because the real messages to employees was given in person at the meetings which were being held daily in a unit this size. Well publicized and ironically right in the church basement up the block.
We had just signed a stip and the election was about 3 to 4 weeks away. We were actually gaining momentum. We had silenced most of management by psychological tactics. We had consultants showing antiquated videos and slide shows that no one cared about. We had management responding to our literature and putting out volumes of their own. Only one thing left to do, which was the power statements. It was time to walk the floors. Now remember, we had salts all over the hospital in all different job titles as well as fake identifications. But now we would wear our shirts and just take turns walking the units. IF they tried to remove us, we would be escorted out the front door while more of us went into the back door. The rotation game. We brought the big bus as well. We knew the bus would be a major distraction, but that was the point of the bus. The bus wasn’t just to show the employees the union is coming, it was and still is a way to keep management pre occupied. Let them worry about all of the other things and not about the voters.
And we made sure we had the media coverage. We went to the papers first. We went right after the safe staffing issue. Workers needed a voice. I actually remember that when the media went into the lobby of hospital for the hospital position statement was the day I made sure to be escorted out by security and then I stopped walking when I saw the cameras and grabbed my chance. I turned to the security guards and made the scene. “What happens if I don’t leave?” One gentleman said, well then we call the cops and have you arrested for trespassing. Imagine the news catching me getting arrested on camera while fighting for workers rights? What a blunder they would make. I calmly walked over to the couches in the lobby (all the while praying that my bluff would work). I sat down and stated loudly, “Please call the cops because all we are doing is trying to help the workers and give them a chance to vote.” Media heard it. Guard looked at guard. One was on radio. No one was calling anyone. I was staying.
The campaign ended up being a landslide victory bringing in thousands of members but most importantly a lot of money. The fight for the contract was left to the business agents and attorney. Our job was over. At the end of any election, the truth was we didn’t care as long as we won. I would eventually stop taking calls from the same people I befriended. It was time to move onto the next place. We never gave much thought to look back and check in and see how negotiations were going. As long as they got some kind of contract and paid dues was the goal. Get something. Tell the workers it was a start and you cannot build Rome in a day, but get the money. At the time, we believed. It was in the later years, the beliefs eroded and when I personally started to care is when the problems began. I always can say I finally opened my eyes to see that everything we had fought for, all of the energy expended, all of the people we left behind, we cared only about making the quota. We believed in the movement but we needed to make the quota to keep our jobs and our lifestyle.
Union Life Part 4
As most are already aware, a union movement cannot exist without emotional issues that are brought to life. PERCEPTION IS REALITY! We mastered bringing the smallest issue and making it tremendous. We mastered creating issues. Emotions need to take over and completely consume the workforce. With emotions, the union cannot gain the momentum. Without constant emotions, the union movement cannot be sustained.
So where does the emotion begin? The befriending process of the SALT is a calculated and more than anything, has to be felt personally. The friendships that are made actually are real. Though there is the underlying motive, I had to be believable and trusted and therefore everything was real.
In order to create emotion, as a friend I had to do what management didn’t do, I had to ask my co workers how their day was going constantly. Did anyone ever say thank you to us? Can you believe how hard they make us work? Can you imagine that we never get to go on a break? Who can afford medications with a bad medical plan like this? Then I had to do the second thing I had to do that management never did was LISTEN. Listening is the key. Everyone wants to talk and air out their complaints especially on a bad day but usually no one wants to hear them. But the SALTs listened constantly. We can control the issues and make the issues.
Of course the befriending process included weekly activities with the employees in the facility. The dinners with family and friends, going to the movies, going out for drinks, even having the kid play together, all of it was part of earning the respect and trust of the employees and co workers. Every employee would be known, strengths and weaknesses, family traits, work ethics, and most importantly who were the informal leaders that we had to get to. Eventually all of that came together and we were able to move into different parts of any facility in order to gather the information necessary for the union campaign.
Finally, all that was left was to drop the old line, “ I cannot believe there is no union in this place. The last place I worked at had a union and nothing happened like this.” And so it would begin and repeat, over and over and over…. This would be something I could have done forever until I finally “woke up” and realized that what I had created behind me was not what I had thought it was and not what I had intended.
I will address the misperceptions about what unions can accomplish in healthcare in future posts