Monday, September 01, 2008

Happy Labor Day!

When I was hired by the school district 32 years ago I was told by a fellow employee, "Better join the union. Big Jim's our boss. You'll need the protection."

That turned out to be good advice, although I never needed to use the union services against Jim. Other employees had their problems with Jim's unique interpretations of policy and rules governing employees, and each time the union made sure he understood. Big Jim got grieved a lot and he always lost. But, what usually happens in a big organization? It didn't matter that Jim was a jerk--it might have helped him with his bosses--he got promoted, and was in on the hiring of his clone/replacement, Phil, who also has a problem understanding rules clear to everyone but him. It has to do with his personal paranoia and sometimes near-delusional behavior. He's also been taken to the woodshed by the union over several situations, and made sure he understood where he went wrong. Did it do any good? Naw. Those types never seem to learn that their management techniques, a cross between the Industrial Revolution and Marine boot camp, are out of fashion in today's world. Every once in a while you've just gotta yank down their pants and give them a switch across the butt to let them know they screwed up.

Our union is part of a state employees' organization, and specifically for school district employees who are non-teaching, although it is also part of the NEA, the national teachers' union. I think it makes it easier on us for our bosses to know we are backed by one of the most powerful unions in the country. In Utah where I live, a right-to-work state, employers really, really hate unions. That's good. I'm glad they hate unions. I wouldn't be a union member if they loved them.

When I started the head of our union was a man who was so contentious that when yearly salary and benefit negotiations would start some of the district administrators would opt out, saying that their hatred of the guy was so deep they couldn't effectively bargain. After a while the contentious man was gone. He got into politics for a time, then a newspaper article appeared where a 17-year-old boy claimed that the man asked him to have sex with his wife while he watched. Even that story, which cost him his political career, didn't end his union activities. Now he's the head of a large police union. He may be a sex pervert, but by god he knows union law.

One of the presidents of our local chapter was the head mechanic, overseeing the maintenance and repairs of our district vehicles. One year it was found that the district always was one step ahead in negotiations and it turned out our president was feeding them information. He was a judas! He didn't like what the union board was doing, so he decided to sabotage the negotiations. He was booted out of the union, but a couple of years later he committed a major mistake. He caused about $6000 damage in a truck accident that was his fault. He drove into the school bus washing facility in a truck too big, damaging both the truck and the bus wash. Believe it or not, he came to the union for help and they backed him! They did it because the district was going to administer major punishment and they felt establishing a precedent was more important than their feelings toward the guy. The union pointed out that the bus wash had no sign that indicated how high the vehicle had to be, so even though he had caused the DOY (Damage Of the Year), Judas got off with a slap. It showed me at the time that it was always the district's reaction to want to punish, and it was the union's reaction to point out where in the long run it was the district's own fault. I like that. Always turn it around and make it someone else's fault!

We also had some problems a few years ago that required a job action. To see school district employees standing on the sidewalk outside the district office waving signs was too good an opportunity for the news media, so we made all the local news shows and the newspapers. The district caved in within 24 hours.

It's no surprise to anyone who knows me that I think most bosses walk on their knuckles, were dropped on their heads while infants, or have some kind of major undiagnosed personality disorder. Mine also fit into the definition of the Peter Principle, which is that a person is promoted to the level of their own incompetence. We have bosses who hate each other, won't talk, view all employees and each other with suspicion and fear, and operate out of paranoia and fear for their own jobs. They don't have a union and we do.

On this labor day I'd like to salute those unions that keep those kinds of dickheads in line. I've never had to use the protection of my union because it's always been over me, like an umbrella. When someone else screwed up--and god knows a lot of people are screwing up every day--the union jumps in and usually wins.

Right now one of my coworkers is our union rep, another coworker is retired from the Postal Service, and was a union guy there. He is a blowhard and braggart, and says he handled hundreds of grievances at the Postal Service and won every one of them. I think that's an exaggeration. He also is working because his wife won't let him stay at home. He complains about that all the time. I said, "Why don't you file a grievance against her?" He just gave me a dirty look.

Hope you had a great and restful Labor Day!

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