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Home » Officer Columns » Perseverance in Organizing Leads to Power for Employees

Perseverance in Organizing Leads to Power for Employees

  -  AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

One of the most challenging tasks we have as a union is to organize. It takes commitment, resources, patience, perseverance, and tenacity. Organizing is the life-blood of a strong union. Without new members and new bargaining units, there is a slow trickle of declining membership. As a union loses members, there is a loss of union density in the workplace. Consequently, a loss of density reduces a union’s power. Negotiations with an employer are all about power. Without it, there is little or no leverage at the bargaining table.

Employers often have an aversion to unions organizing their workplace. They will do whatever it takes to keep the union out, sparing no expense. A divided workforce with dissension among the workers is fertile ground for an employer to fight unionization. Often, an employer will go so far as to hire a union-busting law firm with special expertise in fighting unionization.

Recently, I have seen a spate of advertisements touting the wonderful salary and benefits that one employer provides. Employees highlighted in the ads say their hourly salary went from $10 to over $17 and that the employer provides up to 20 weeks of paid family leave after the birth of a child.

All this is not so much due to the largess of the employer, but it allows them to tell the workers that there’s no need for a union in their workplace. “Look what we give you! A union will only take your dues and give you little in return.”

But there are many needs that go beyond salary and benefits. What about job security and due process? What about a safe workplace? What about a voice in what happens in the workplace? How about a requirement to negotiate changes that affect the employees? And what about showing respect for the employees whose labor enables the employer to make huge profits for the company? And what about a pension plan that allows employees to retire with dignity?

On April 8, workers at three Starbucks locations in Ithaca, New York, voted to unionize. It was a huge victory, however, Starbucks recently announced its plans to close Ithaca’s Collegetown Starbucks. Many of the Starbucks employees affected by the potential closing believe it is in retaliation for their desire to unionize. Is the closing being used to discourage other Starbucks employees who may harbor a desire to unionize?

The above examples are just a few of the employer tactics used to dissuade workers from organizing.

Nevertheless, employees must have the courage of their convictions. They must fight their fears if they are to achieve a collective bargaining agreement that will help prevent unilateral decisions by the employer that are simply imposed on the workers. If job safety is an issue, a collective bargaining agreement can address the issue. And if you want a more level playing field, forcing an employer to sit across the negotiating table to negotiate a fair contract is one way to achieve it.

Important reminder: Never cross a picket line. Doing so will severely undercut the workers who are risking everything in their attempt to achieve a fair contract. Support other workers in their struggles to organize.

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