Career Story: Union Representative

Union Representative

Job Title: CWA Representative (Union Representative)

Education: BA in Liberal Studies, Virginia Wesleyan College

Previous Experience: I was an elected member of Executive Board of a local union from the mid 1970's until I was hired by the union in 1999. I had experience at the local level in processing grievances and problem solving.

Job Tasks: The union I work for represent workers with a variety of employers. We negotiate contracts that establish working conditions, wages and benefits. We also interact with the local, state and national government on behalf of our members to be sure they are treated fairly and responsibly in the community at large.

Today I spent the day across a table from a telephone company manager attempting to resolve five grievances filed by workers over the way they were treated by the company. Each of the grievances involved suspensions the workers had received.

On some occasions I am able to convince the company to reverse the suspensions and occasionally we will compromise on a solution. If we are not able to come to an agreement, I may take the case to arbitration. Arbitration is like going to court. A neutral third party, like a judge, will hear the evidence and make a decision on the case.

Yesterday I attended the Virginia General Assembly and spoke with legislators about bills before the Assembly that impact workers. My responsibility was to explain to the legislators why the bills were good or bad. It is also helpful to understand the opposing view and explain the weaknesses of the opposing arguement.

I also negotiate contracts with employers. We decide on the appropriate wages for the various job functions, determine pension rates, how much vacation the workers should receive and what kind of health care coverage they have. We also discuss work rules such as pay for being on call and for overtime. Any rule impacting working conditions is fair game for bargaining.

I also help workers who want to have a union in their work places. We call that organizing. Workers have the right based on Federal law to form a union if they want one. Too often employers fight unions and it is my job to explain to workers the benefits of working collectively to improve their working environment.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is empowering workers and righting wrongs. I have been successful in convincing employers to return fired workers back to the payroll. I have succeeded in convincing an arbitrator to force the employer to return a fired worker.

When I see a bill passed that will positively impact thousands of people or a court decision that gives workers more power in the workplace, I am thrilled.

I become frustrated when I see a serious injustice and I am not successful if getting it fixed. I hate to fail a worker who needs me.

Job Tips:
1. I started by volunteering for my union doing small jobs such as taking notes in grievance meetings or volunteering on political campaigns, stuffing envelopes and making phone calls.

2. Take advantage of any training the union provides. Often the training is free but provides necessary skills.

3. Subscribe to internet sites or newsletters about union issues.

4. Community colleges offer basic classes on labor and labor relations.

5. Seek out an activist who may be willing to mentor you.

Additional Thoughts: The preparation is important. When a job becomes available you must be ready. You will not have time to be ready after the job vacancy is announced.

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