Union Misconceptions

And don’t want to get involved!

By Local 083 Stewards

1. I don’t like their politics.

Like corporations, trade associations, environmental groups and others, the union supports politicians who support measures that help its members. SEIU has supported mostly Democrats because they mostly support unions. SEIU also has supported Republicans who support SEIU and its members. SEIU supported Billy Dalton (R), state representative for district 21; Bob Jenson (R), state representative for district 58; and David Nelson, (R), state senator for district 29. And to quote Pericles from 430 BC: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

2. I don’t like being told how to vote.

The union provides recommendations on whom or what measure to vote for based on interviews with the candidates and research on the measures. Many interest groups send out voting recommendations: political parties, newspapers, corporations, PACs, business associations, environmental organizations, even churches. The bottom line the union considers is: Will the politician/measure help or hurt the members? The union is not looking over your shoulder to see who or what you vote for. That’s up to you.

3. I don’t like being forced to pay dues.

Well, who does? A little history on this: Ted Kulongoski served as counsel to the House Labor Committee that reviewed the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act. This law, which became effective on October 5, 1973 (1973 Or Laws ch 536, see http://www.oregon.gov/ERB/histry1c.shtml), allowed state employees to form a union and to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. The union represents all state employees in contract negotiations which take place every two years. Bargaining, contract administration and enforcement, organizing worksites, and making the union heard in the state legislature requires a permanent organization and unavoidable expense. Even classified employees who choose not to join the union must pay what is called Fair Share. The reasoning is that the union is required to represent all employees and negotiate the contract for all classified employees, not just those who are members. Hence, it’s fair to require fair share payments from classified employees who choose not to be members but who still benefit from the contract and union representation. We are forced to pay taxes, forced to follow rules we don’t like. We live in a complex society with a great deal of interdependence. Oregon lawyers must pay dues to their own professional association in order to practice law.

4. The union never does anything for me.

The union is not a social service organization. Its focus is on wages and benefits. If you have a problem with your boss and it involves the contract, the union provides stewards, organizers and, if need be, lawyers, to address the issue with management. Being state employees, we are affected by laws passed by the Oregon legislature. So we hire lobbyists to take your working life issues to the politicians, for example PERS retirement and health insurance benefits.

5. The union didn’t help my friend who got unfairly disciplined, suspended, etc.

 These accusations cannot be countered with simple answers. Each case has to be examined closely. The steward, if one was called in to represent the employee, has to determine what article of the contract was violated, if any. Not all cases involve clear-cut violations. Not all employees are blameless.

6. I don’t have time, I’m busy, I’ve got other priorities.

We understand. Our local officers and stewards hold full-time jobs at OSU, they have families to care for, soccer teams to coach, music lessons to take their kids to, etc. The union has jobs that require only a little of your time, an hour a week or less, depending on when bargaining talks are being held. Please consider volunteering to help.

7. It’s not democratic.

Your local officers (Local 083 SEIU-OPEU) are elected by the members. The statewide union officers (Local 503 SEIU-OPEU) are also elected by the members. All union meetings are open to members and Fair Shares, with one exception. To ensure members’ privacy, steward meetings are limited to stewards only.

8. It’s too confrontational. My boss is very nice to me.

Your boss may be nice, others are not always so. Unless we stand up for ourselves, we will be ignored. Our stewards don’t shout at managers in meetings. They present your case in a professional manner given the guidelines in the contract. We do chant, yell, and make a ruckus at rallies because that is what gets management’s attention.

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