Here’s the scenario: a Guild member writes a short article that is later posted on a bulletin board in her workplace, or on the union’s website. The article is fact-based and also expresses a personal opinion. No individuals are named and no identifying details are given. Within minutes, a manager pulls the article off the bulletin board, calls the union office and threatens legal action. Can you guess where this happened?
Managers are a notoriously thin-skinned bunch. They feel that since they don’t have the option of publicly bad-mouthing employees, employees shouldn’t be able to say what they think about their bosses either. But is that actually true?
The fact is that if you’re the boss, you don’t have to publicly demean your employees; there are plenty of other ways to show disdain. You can give them ridiculous workloads; set performance standards so high that no one can ever reach them; you can pick and choose which employees will be singled out for ridicule or discipline. Hey, you’re the boss, it’s your signature on the paycheque and your word is law!
That’s why unions are organized in workplaces to begin with: to put workers on a more equal footing with their bosses. Workers have used their collective strength over the years to gain things that many people now take for granted, including standard working hours, maternity leave, and pension plans.
The law provides some protection for union officers to help even the power balance. Sally Employee wouldn’t dream of walking up to her manager and saying that she’s not being treated fairly (okay, maybe she’d dream of it, but she probably wouldn’t do it). She’d probably be disciplined or fired. A member of a union executive, on the other hand, has every right to tell a manager that employees are not being treated fairly– as long as he/she has some information to back up the claim.
It’s not about who can say meaner things about the other guy. It’s about exposing facts and encouraging employees to ask questions. If the employer doesn’t like what’s being said, they have every right to present a contrary view. It’s only fair.
PS The events described in the first paragraph have occurred at nearly every unionized workplace in Canada!
Keith Maskell is a Staff Representative for the Canadian Media Guild.