It is often asked by the members….both new and old. I look at it like an insurance premium. The Union will be there when you need it. The Union is also the watchdog of the employer's actions, locally, regionally and nationally. At times, the Union also works jointly with the employer to develop policies and deliver information to all staff; harassment awareness sessions, joint safety and health committee training and the United Way campaign are just a few examples. Locally, regionally and nationally the Union raises members' concerns with the employer by way of Union/Management Consultation meetings.
By meetings like local annual general meetings, YOU, the members tell your local executive what it is that you want them to do or what direction you want them to take. They, in turn, do the same, along with all other locals in a region, to the National Vice President. Then the National Vice Presidents, as members of the UVAE Executive Council, will help set the Union's national agenda. This Council also takes direction from the UVAE Triennial Convention which delegates from your local attend.
The Union also acts as your bargaining agent for collective bargaining purposes to negotiate a Collective Agreement to cover the working conditions and benefits in your working life with your employer. I must say, that is no easy task.
What has the Union done for me? Many members seem to think that the employer just gave us the rights and benefits that we have.
When I joined the Veterans Affairs department in 1976 this is a sample of what my working life was like:
- There was no Dental Plan
- There was no "Discrimination" clause in the Collective Agreement
- There was no "Technological Change" clause
- There was no "Compressed Work Week" or "Flexible Hours" clauses
- There was no "Maternity Leave" or "Paternal Leave"
- There was no "Care and Nurturing Leave"
- There was no "Personal Leave"
- And my salary was miserable
The employer didn't wake up one day and decide to give these things to us……they were negotiated by the Union.
Here are some of the things that we have attained on top of the ones mentioned above:
- A Work Force Adjustment (WFA) Policy, which was purely the result of the '91 strike. Other unions have told us that it is one of the best. Even then the employer unilaterally diminished the original WFA at will. But the Union negotiated the policy into the Collective Agreement, which gives it more force and makes it that it can only be changed through negotiations or legislation.
- We now have a definition of a common law spouse that recognizes same sex couples
- There is now leave granted to union representatives to discuss "pending" grievances with a member
- Leave for long term care of a Parent (Elder Care)
- An increase in "Bereavement Leave"
- Pre-Retirement Leave
- The elimination of Zone Rates of Pay
- A 37.5 hour work week for most of our members
- A roll over policy for our Term members to indeterminate status (before the freeze)
- 1 personal and 1 volunteer leave
- Expanded definition of family
- More flexibility for family related leave
- Enhanced benefits for part-time workers
- Pay equity
These are only some of the things that we have the ability to enjoy as Union members. It was the Union who attained these things; the employer did not voluntarily just give them to us. In some cases we had to exercise our right to strike and in other cases the threat of a strike and some job action was enough. And my comments do not even address Joint Consultation issues on policy and procedures in the workplace that have been improved because of the Union intervention.
THAT IS WHY I PAY UNION DUES!
So, who is "the Union"? I can tell you who it is not:
- It's not the bricks and mortar at 233 Gilmour Street in Ottawa
- It's not the National President of the PSAC
- It's not the Alliance Executive
- It's not the National President of UVAE
- It's not the National Executive of UVAE
- It's not the Local Presidents
It is "we" the members, which I am proud to be one of: One member with one voice. When you add us all together locally, regionally or nationally we make a very loud voice that cannot and should not be ignored by the employer or the Union. I am sure, that if your local executive is doing something that the members don't agree with, they hear about it. Or, if they are not doing something that the members want, they hear about it. Direction is given by the membership!
On saying that, what happens when you the members don't do or say anything? What happens to the Union? To accomplish anything the members need to be behind it. There is safety in numbers and there is strength in numbers.
Most of us are volunteers in the union and must have some kind of do-gooder instincts to do this kind of work, as well as thick skin, since we take some heat from the employer and the members. So, I'll ask you, before you want to go on a rant against the Union, ask yourself two things:
Am I willing to do that job and better?
And who is the Union?
UVAE National President