Thursday, December 29, 2005

My First Contract

I said earlier that I'd post more of the details about the contract I'd settled earlier in December. Let me first say I'm tremendously proud of my hard work, and I wouldn't have been able to do any of it--absolutely none of it--without the leadership of the local. They're hardworking folks trying to right a lot of wrongs, but more about that later.

The skinny on the contract goes like this: Four years, 11.5% in salary increases over that time, a two year ban on subcontracting, increased sick days and an early retirement incentive.

Of these, the things I'm most proud of are the ban on subcontracting and the increased sick days. Here's why: school districts all across this great state are hiring private companies to come into schools and perform jobs that our union members currently perform. They often save the districts money by paying dirt wages with no benefits. This is obviously bad.

I was speaking to a friend about this ban on privatization and he said "isn't this kinda what unions do?" I said yeah, but without a specific clause in your contract the employer can get away with it. The union can still fight like hell, but management has the right to engage in this kind of activity unless otherwise prohibited.

On the sick days, we got a doubling of their extended sick leave (the kind you use if you're out for a while) and kept a clause in their contract regarding how that leave can be used. That was a pretty major victory.

The thing I took away from all of this was the vicious shellacing we as a bargaining team took from a heated minority of the union's members. They were upset because the rules about distribution of overtime details were re-rigged to be very slightly more redistributionist. To be blunt, they wanted it all, and anything less was viewed as one person put it, as our 'punking.'

Apparently for insisting on some measure of equity of opportunity for all the union's members we got punked. I never saw Ashton Kutcher at the bargaining table, but I suppose he could have been hiding behind the superintendent's desk.

It was an ugly display all around.

The thing about this round of bargaining is that we were only able to get accomplished what we could because of the relationships we had been able to build with the employer. That sounds at once obvious and strange. Obvious because, well duh. Strange because isn't bargaining supposed to be a bunch of screaming and yelling and people hitting the table with their shoes?

I dunno. There are whole philosophies where people get in touch with their inner wet noodle and bargain accordingly and some people wouldn't bargain without screaming. I didn't know any better so I approached it thusly: I know what managment wants so I'll ask for what we need from that perspective.

I'd say that largely it worked. Also, it didn't help that the previous union's leadership was hated by management, as they were largley perceived as a bunch 0f self-interestd yobs.

The new team was able to build a level of trust and credibility that frankly, had never existed at the table for this group before. The funny thing is that slightly under half of their own membership doesn't know a good deal when they see one.

But I bet they take the raises and benefits regardless.

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