Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Brother, how art thou?

Tonight, the Civic Association of Non-Union Employees (CANUE) held a very important meeting on the future of the organization. I am a member of CANUE. The organization represents all non-union employees, including managers but excluding senior management. CANUE is not a trade union. Traditionally, the relationship between senior management and CANUE was informal and was built on a level of trust and respect. Quarterly meetings with the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) were the norm.

That all changed 6 years ago when a top-down reorganization led to the sudden departure of 14 non-union employees. The reorg was a disaster. It was never fully implemented, front line staff did not buy into it and municipal councilors and the general public were confused as to who did what. But the haphazard way people were terminated, while others were promoted or seconded, left a bad taste in most non-union employees. Trust and respect were in doubt.

A pattern in actions taken by senior management began to emerge. A new Hours of Work and Overtime policy was developed that initially involved non-union employees. However, somewhere along the line, senior management did not like the path that process was taking and came up with their own plan. This was the infamous '40 hour work week' I mentioned in a previous post. Despite the fact that unionized employees work a 35 hour work week, non-union employees were to work a 40 hour work week. In reality nothing changed. If you worked 37.5 hours before the new policy, you continued to work 37.5 hours after the new policy. It was mind boggling. Trust and respect were closer to dead.

Next came the compensation review for all non-union employees, including senior management. Part way through the process, senior management pulled themselves out of the process. They agreed on setting salaries for the rest of us at the 50th percentile, while setting their own salaries at the 100th percentile. Around the same time, a morale survey was conducted and senior management attempted to paint a rosy picture. In reality, things were much worse. The CANUE executive turned the survey on it's head and several councilors picked up on that. Trust and respect were completely dead.

Which brings us to the important meeting. The topic at hand was the future of CANUE. Do we maintain the status quo and hope that things improve or do we vote to transform CANUE into a trade union. We heard from rep the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and explained the process to forming a trade union and what can be expected. People asked questions and provided their opinions on the matter. A vote was taken on whether to begin the process of forming a trade union. In the end, 95 percent of attendees (about 140 people attended the meeting) voted in favour.

The result was not surprising. I think many people were initially reluctant to take the step to forming a trade union. They figured that senior management was not going to give up on a 20 or so year relationship. They figured that things would settle down and that senior management would want to improve the relationship. That was not to happen. It is clear that senior management was going to use CANUE as the wedge against the union locals. Unfortunately, senior management thought wrong.

So, despite my long-time anti-union stance, it looks like I'll be a union member before the end of the year. Nice one senior management.