Monday, September 28, 2009

Another Union Story

I've certainly blathered (that's my new favorite word for what I do here) on about the Postal Service and my experiences there. I was a card carrying member of the American Postal Workers Union - and in the first part of the "career," I became involved. Said it before, will say it again - if there were no need for that union, it wouldn't exist. Postal management's attitudes towards the rank and file were driven home on a daily basis, so "dancing with the one that brung ya" seemed logical at the time.

My local president was looking to step back and let someone younger and perhaps fresher step in, so he began to recruit me. I started to go to more meetings, and they even sent me to a big convention - the Tri-State - held in Topeka that year. Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas all sent reps, so most of the local big wheels were there. It ran for several days in a convention center, and there were all kinds of seminars on a variety of subjects. I'm glad I went -I did learn quite a bit. One of the side effects of these things is that you come home all pumped and ready to take on the world. I was no different.

One of the things I took from some of the sessions were how the local leadership needed to energize the members at home - get them involved in some way or another to promote unity - unity against management - but not in any confrontational manner. Several ideas were bounced off us - some used being involved in local charities. Working together to help out during the United Way drive not only would involve everyone, but it would also get the organization out of the office and into the local consciousness - instead of being just a bunch of overpaid and grumpy civil type servants, there would be proof that the union actually gave a crap about the local charities and causes. The carrier's union does this with their national food drive - maybe you've set out canned or boxed food for your carrier to pick up. This sort of thing appears in the papers, and good publicity would be a positive. Something so small as adopting a highway would at least get our name out in the public. I could certainly see how this could help us bond together - "divide and conquer" is a tactic management uses frequently.

The idea that really caught my attention was presented by the Topeka local. They had t-shirts printed that had some inoffensive message (don't piss off the boss - it's not allowed) but it had significance for their members. They would all wear their local union t-shirts once a month on Friday, or some such thing. Their president reported how that alone really seemed to help hold everyone together - in a small way at first, but it grew over time.

That idea sure seemed to be a good starting point. So, I got to thinking about it - and luckily I considered my strategy for becoming the local president. I knew I'd have to have a dependable person as the secretary for the local, so I asked one of my good friends if she'd do it. She was understandably hesitant - it meant eating up a lot of her spare time. I asked her to trust me - I wasn't too interested in doing this without help from more than just a few people.

I knew that if I couldn't energize the constituency, I'd end up picking up trash by my lonesome, and staffing a United Way booth by myself, as well as all the other union duties - filing grievances, studying the contract, connecting with union officials and so on. So, I decided to try a bit of a test.

I decided to start with the t-shirt idea. Since we were in Dodge City, I thought a black t-shirt with a white cowboy hat on it would be appropriate. I think the only text I wanted was just the APWU logo and our local number - that would be about as unassuming at first glance as possible. But, the "subversive" message would be that we claimed the white hat as the "good guys." We were gonna be on the right side of things, and that was gonna be what wearing that t-shirt meant. Our current secretary was a "window clerk" and since they had uniforms, she felt they would be left out of the t-shirt business - why not have a discreet lapel pin?

I agreed - it sure seemed like a good idea to me. But, like I said, I wasn't gonna wade right in without testing the waters. So, I typed up a bit of a proposal for the local members about the t-shirt/lapel pin idea and the long term benefits we could gain for ourselves. I also spoke at the local meeting about my ideas for the future, and how I would need everyone to be involved. Thus, my plans for getting us involved in the community were spread around.

In this bulletin I mentioned how we needed to know what our membership wanted to do - did we want t-shirts, lapel pins, or both? The union was gonna buy them, so the whole shebang was "free" - it did come from dues and funds raised by other means. I asked them to come to me to discuss this, and let me know what they thought.

I figured if people wouldn't come to me to talk about a free t-shirt, I was gonna have a hell of a time energizing the local. Apathy or my inability to lead? Didn't really matter to me - the results would tell me what I needed to know.

Well, you can imagine what happened. Nada. Zip. No one could be bothered to talk to me about it. Some weeks later the window clerk asked me what happened to the t-shirt idea. I told her no one would come to me, so as far as I was concerned, the deal was off. My friend who would have been the secretary was off the hook, too. Even some time later, in a crowd, one of the more prominent members asked me about it, and why I wanted people to come to me. I should have just gone ahead and made a choice, rather than requiring them to come to me.

I told him I wasn't into baby sitting, nor was I gonna wipe his or anyone else's ass. I had demonstrated that they'd all leave me hanging, and I'd do all the work. Not gonna happen.

He just shrugged, and we all went back to work. Thus ended my foray into union politics.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

People don't change, this is the same thing politicians have to contend with. By and large they get no input unless it be negative, after the fact finger pointing.

I'm not defending the professional politicians. They, I suppose, count on that very trait to further their agenda.

I'm saying Joe Average offers the politicians no input, then bitches about the outcome.

For what it's worth, that's how I see it.

Glad you didn't get sucked in.