In an ideal world, when employers do something wrong they would just come out and admit it and make things right.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. When union stewards see or hear about bad behavior by employers, it’s not always easy to know where to start. This can be especially true when dealing with line clearance tree trimming contractors, where the work is spread out and supervisors sometimes take an “out of sight, out of mind” view of the union contract.
In January, instructors from the National Labor College came to Weakley Hall in Vacaville with good news: you can improve your chances of winning if you are methodical in your approach.
Nearly 20 stewards, mostly tree trimmers and a few from Outside Line, spent Jan. 24 and 25 with instructors Morty Simon and Carol Oppenheimer learning what that method is.
“It’s a very systematic approach,” said Local 1245 Business Rep. Carl Lamers, who attended along with some of the stewards he represents. “They call it ‘Getting PAID.”
It’s an especially appropriate acronym, Lamers pointed out, considering that problems with pay in the tree trimming industry are “constant and on-going.”
The “P” in PAID stands for Problem. What happened? Who’s been harmed and how? Who’s responsible for the harm?
“A” is for Agreement. Do any sections of your labor agreement apply to the problem you’ve identified? For example, are wages involved? How about safety, or discipline or work rules? Finding relevant language in the agreement puts you on firmer footing going forward.
“I” is for Investigation. How many people have been harmed? What do they want as a remedy? Has this problem arisen in the past? Are there any government agencies, or allies in the community, who might take an interest in your issue?
“D” is for the all-important Documentation. A successful grievance requires more than just your say-so about what happened. Take notes when witnesses are telling you what they know, or use a recorder if the witness is willing to be recorded. Can you take photos or shoot video of some location that would reveal more about the problem? Would it be helpful to draw a map of the area where the problem occurred?
Trying It Out
But the instructors did more than just explain the method. They gave the stewards a chance to try it out.
“Everybody had to submit a problem they had recently dealt with,” said Lamers. “We had a list of 15 different situations that were real, and we voted on which one to work on.” They chose a demotion case that is currently in the grievance procedure at one of the tree contractors. Breaking into groups, the stewards began applying the principles they had just learned to this case.
“It was definitely helpful,” said Junior Ornelas, the business representative who is overseeing that grievance.
“As we got more into it we began to see that the company’s case is flawed. The stewards at the conference brought up a lot more questions about the company’s action, which involved the demotion of a senior employee. We began to identify major weaknesses in the company’s case,” Ornelas said.
These sorts of interactive exercises are used with increasing frequency at Local 1245-sponsored events, an important supplement to the usual speechifying. Experience shows that even the most interesting speaker begins to sound like a lullaby shortly after lunch.
“The stewards loved it. They thought it was very informative, they enjoyed the chance to participate,” said Lamers.
The two-day conference was another in a series of recent events that seem to signal there is a change in the air: members are beginning to take greater ownership of their union.
After the first day of training, some of the stewards were joined at dinner by young union members who’d participated in a Leadership Training conference earlier that day in Berkeley.
“We had tree trimmers, NV Energy clerical members and gas workers, and Outside Line members,” said Senior Assistant Business Manager Ron Cochran. “It was very impressive to have 15 members and instructors eating together and sharing thoughts.”
Similar steward training events are also in the works for stewards at PG&E, the public sector, and Outside Construction, as well as for Tree Trimmer stewards who were unable to attend the January training.
(More photos below.)
Brian S. Clarke
Jose I. Morales
Nathan “Cory” Higgins
Left: Members from the Leadership Training conference in Berkeley and the Grievance Handling workshop in Vacaville shared experiences over dinner. Right: Nathan Cory Higgins (Davey Tree), right, listens to Carol Oppenheimer. That’s Sergio Munoz (Asplundh Tree) with his back to the camera.