Labor unions are under attack, and working people are caught in the crosshairs. Fortunately, our Shop Stewards are on the front lines, ready for battle, and IBEW Local 1245 is working diligently to arm them with the tools and resources they need to protect and defend the union.
In anticipation of the fights to come, more than 100 public and private sector Shop Stewards came together at Weakley Hall in early March to learn, prepare and strategize for the months ahead. Local 1245 Senior Assistant Business Manager Ray Thomas, who led the day-long conference, kicked it off with an overview of the numerous active court cases that could have deleterious effects on our members, including a state-level pension case in Marin County, as well as the newest legal attempts to do away with agency shops, along the lines of the Friedrichs vs CTA case that went to the Supreme Court last year.
That case ended in a 4-4 split decision when Justice Scalia passed away unexpectedly, but the Trump Administration has the power to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice to fill that vacant seat, and most experts believe that this specific issue will be the litmus test for that appointment.
“By the end of this year, open shop in the public sector will likely become the law of the land, and agency shops [in all sectors] could soon be a thing of the past,” Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell told the room full of Shop Stewards. “With that in mind, our single greatest agenda item in 2017 must be the preservation of our very strong presence [in the public and private sectors]. We will put whatever resources we have into maintaining all the gains we have achieved at our properties. You are in the belly of the beast, and you are our highest priority this year.”
Much of the day focused heavily on the tools and policies that Shop Stewards have at their disposal, and the best ways to make good use of them. Business Rep Jennifer Gray presented a detailed overview of Weingarten and Garrity rights, which offer specific protections to union workers when they are faced with potential disciplinary action. Weingarten gives all union employees the right to union representation – usually a Shop Steward – to be present during an investigatory interview with management. Garrity specifically protects public sector workers from self-incrimination by giving them the “right to remain silent,” as laid out in the 5th amendment to the Constitution.
Business Rep Al Fortier led a discussion on Shop Steward “Do’s” and “Don’ts,” guided by the policies set forth by the National Labor Relations Board. He identified several specific rights that Stewards have as worker representatives, including carrying out investigations, requesting information, and the “equality principle” which gives Stewards the same rights as the bosses during grievance discussions.
Business Rep Sam Glero reviewed the seven measures of “just cause” which Stewards can use to determine whether disciplinary action taken by the management was fair or not. “Just cause” is the standard that distinguishes fair and reasonable judgement from unduly harsh, unfair, biased, prejudiced or arbitrary action. If one or more of the seven measures was violated, it means that “just cause” was not satisfied, or was seriously weakened.
Just before the lunch break, Senior Assistant Business Manager Ray Thomas talked about the elements of a grievance and how to determine if a grievance exists, based on the contract, the laws and company policy. After lunch, Business Rep Randy Osborn continued the discussion with more details pertaining to grievance handling, including investigation, note-taking, interview skills, and of course writing and presenting the grievance.
Business Rep JV Macor followed the grievance presentation with a detailed overview of two key laws — the Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act – that provide workers with time off when health and/or family needs arise. While FMLA and CFRA overlap in some areas, they are not identical, and Macor dutifully pointed out the similarities and differences in the two policies.
Business Rep Charley Souders reviewed the union’s Duty of Fair Representation (DFR), which is the legal requirement that compels unions to provide representation to all workers within the bargaining unit, regardless as to whether they paid union dues. He presented a brief history of DFR, including several Court decisions that led to this requirement, and he also outlined the key steps that must be taken to fulfill DFR. Additionally, he addressed some of the most frequently asked questions pertaining to this requirement.
The final staff presenter of the day was Organizer Eileen Purcell, who walked the Stewards through an engaging and informative presentation on the various threats and challenges that the union is facing under the new Administration. She noted how all three branches of the federal government are attacking Labor on all sides, and encouraged each and every Shop Steward to do all that they can to build power and solidarity within their respective worksites.
The day-long conference concluded with a presentation about the union’s new Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D) insurance policy that went into effect this year. A representative from the third-party administrator encouraged the Stewards to designate beneficiaries for these benefits, and ensure that the members at their worksites do the same, to avoid a potential probate situation for their survivors.
Similar Shop Steward trainings also took place in Reno and Lompoc, and a separate Shop Steward conference for manufacturing is set for later this month. In April, the union will be hosting a series of trainings for Shop Stewards at PG&E.
If you’re interested in becoming a Shop Steward, talk to your Business Rep.
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director
Photos by John Storey and Ray Thomas