Have you ever heard the terms “charity starts at home” or “education begins at home”? The meanings of these phrases can be interpreted in different ways. For example, to me ‘charity’ means taking care of your family first---making sure they have everything they need before going out into the world & helping others. Shouldn’t you make sure your home is secure first, then support and pay attention to the needs of your neighbors?
The same can be said for your workplace. In many ways, your job is considered your second home. Some of you are there five, six, and sometimes even seven days a week. You’re there on holidays, in bad weather, early in the morning, late at night, all year round and working with the same people. Some people spend more time at work than they do at home, especially when you factor out travel time to and from work and time at home asleep. So, knowing that your job is your home away from home, are you taking care of your work family?
When I say Organizing starts at home, I mean making sure your coworkers have everything that they need. There are many facets to your job, and one of the strongest supports you have is your Union contract. When you look through your contract, virtually every Article has a benefit to you and/or your coworkers. Many senior members know what they are contractually entitled to, but what about the newer members? While they are being trained to do the job, are they also being made aware of what it means to be a part of this Union? Well guess what, that job is yours!
Is your family being scheduled properly? In most of our contracts there are members, known as “Career Part-Timers”, that have been employed by the company for many years. These folks are entitled to a minimum schedule of 20 hours per week, provided they are available. Do you know who they are in your store? Have you told them to make sure they let their manager know that they can in fact work more hours? Speak to them, don’t wait for someone else to do it.
The beauty of a Union contract is you can open the book and see when your last raise was, then see when your next raise will be. You can see if and when you are entitled to premium pay for Sunday and holiday’s, or a differential for working an overnight shift. What about your neighbor down the aisle though? Who is checking for them? Do they even have a copy of the contract? Let’s start there first. Give them a copy of the book or lend them yours so they can see for themselves what they can look forward to. Trust me, they will be appreciative of you pointing out a benefit to them—wouldn’t you be?
How about the Active Ballot Club checkoff? You may be signed up, but are the rest of your work family? Everyone wants laws passed that would benefit them individually, but does everyone know where it starts or how they can contribute to the process? Why not help your Steward and Delegate sign up the rest of your store for the A.B.C. contribution? The benefit of pro-worker laws passed, that help working families live better, far outweigh the twenty-five cents per week contribution to help the process.
As you know, we have 10 Union Reps and hundreds of Shop Stewards that we task with getting to know the newer membership—but even the best Rep or Steward cannot get to everyone as frequently as necessary or cover as much ground as each of you can. I picture a worksite where the more seasoned members intercede and take the newer ones under their wing, educate them to what the Union has done and can do for them. Those newer members inevitably become more knowledgeable and experienced, and in turn teach the ones that come after them.
I picture a store, factory or healthcare facility, where all Local 1500 members are empowered and know when the next General Membership or proposal meetings are and where the next rally, parade, or political outreach may be. I picture busloads of members heading out to a contract update meeting. There they would find out how their company feels about them deserving the benefits and entitlements they’ve earned over the years. I picture those same members coming in droves to blood drives & fundraisers to help the sick and less fortunate. I picture these members coming out in the evenings and on weekends to help our staff talk to employees that are trying to form a Union at their worksite, showing them the value and benefit of belonging to a Union firsthand. I picture members getting closer with one another and building strong groups amongst themselves. I see them eventually sitting on negotiating committees and even getting elected to serve on our Executive Board. Where do you think WE all came from? At some point we all decided that our Union role was bigger than just ourselves.
I also picture one member, one day at a time, standing up for a coworker who doesn’t know better or may be too intimidated to stand up for themselves. We always ask you to become involved in your Union, to make it stronger. Your Union is YOU…and the person working next to you, in your department, on your shift, and honestly everyone currently working at your home away from home. Look around you and start by speaking to the person working beside you. Ask them what they need and see if you can help them. If you can’t help, then get them in touch with their Union Rep. Once it’s resolved then work with them to find and help someone else. We can move mountains if we act as a group. We must start somewhere, and it should start at home.