NATIONAL VICE PRESIDENT’S REPORT – John Duffy, National Vice President
The Backbone and Future of the Labor Movement Is Found On The Shop Floor
The strength of all labor unions lies in the rank and file membership. From the day a new member walks on to the shop floor, much of what he or she experiences will determine what their future level of involvement with their union will be. As a first step, many UWUA local unions hold orientation sessions, familiarizing new members with the collective bargaining agreement and their basic rights as union workers.
Know your rights
One of the most fundamental rights that a unionized worker has is their “Weingarten Rights.” Weingarten Inc. operated a chain of food stores in which one of their retail clerks was denied union representation during an investigatory interview by the employer. Although the clerk was never disciplined, the clerk (against the request of the employer to keep quiet about the interview) later reported the denial of union representation to her shop steward. The union then filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB found that the employer had violated Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by denying union representation during an investigatory interview. The employer then appealed the Board’s decision all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1975, the court, in NLRB v J. Weingarten Inc., upheld the lower court’s ruling and the NLRB’s decision that the employer had violated the NLRA.
Employers are not required to advise our members of their workplace rights. Under Weingarten, the employer has every right to bring one of our members into an investigatory interview alone, without union representation, if the member does not request representation. Members who are not aware of their rights could in fact be terminated for something that could have been avoided if they invoked their right to union representation.
That’s what makes orientation and education of our members imperative, in order for the union to be effective at the grassroots level and beyond. When union members are aware of their rights, they will no doubt have a better understanding and appreciation of their union. It’s that understanding and appreciation that will make it likely that those members will be active in supporting their union.
It is those members that become the future shop stewards, representing members in investigatory interviews, enforcing the collective bargaining agreement, and seeing to it that the company, while preaching safety, doesn’t abandon established safety practices for profit, or faster service restoration.
Grassroots union activism is the lifeblood of the union movement. Activism has always been important, but in today’s workplace, the need is even greater with employers growing more aggressive at the bargaining table and on the shop floor. Activism and education of our members are priorities of your National Union.
Knowledge is power
In addition to regional conferences, educational training also takes place at our Power 4 America conferences and our Constitutional Conventions. In recent years your National Union began a new labor education initiative informally known as “Mini-Conferences” in order to reach deeper into the membership. These conferences are typically held on Saturdays, allowing rank and file members and shop stewards who don’t have the ability to attend our larger conferences, an opportunity to hone their skills as shop stewards, and rank and file members to further learn about their workplace rights. It’s those stewards and rank and file members who will make the difference on the shop floor, and some who, no doubt, become future union leadership.
Your National Union will accommodate the request of any local union to hold one of these very effective mini-conferences. Our most recent training initiative took place in January in Scranton, PA with officers and shop stewards of our newly chartered Local 648. Those members in attendance were eager to sharpen their skills to ensure their new local will be effective in representing and bettering the lives of their members. After meeting all those new officers and stewards, I have no doubt they will be!
After all, knowledge is power!