Friday, April 28, 2017

What changed my mind?

Unlike my usual entries, this one has a specific audience: my coworkers.  Feel free to keep reading if you're not, but there might be some jargon in here you won't understand, or you'll just lose interest, though in all fairness, the latter could happen even if you are one of my coworkers for whom this post is meant.  I apologize if it gets hard to follow in some parts; I'm intentionally eschewing using people's names.

In case the grapevine hasn't already gotten to you, last night I was nominated and voted in as County President of WARLCA for our county.  For those in the know, this was not a position I particularly coveted; truth be told, I was practically dragged into it kicking and screaming.  I had reasons for not wanting the position: I didn't think I would make a particularly good president, for starters; sometimes, I have the same feelings about the union meetings held by those of you who never attend said meetings; but most of all, I didn't think an RCA should hold office.  I felt that someone with more experience should be president, that an RCA wouldn't have the confidence of the full-timers behind them, and I especially worried that an RCA as chapter president would send a message of general union weakness to management.  My name had come up at a previous meeting as being a "good choice" to succeed my venerated predecessor and then-president; however, so opposed was I to this notion, that I originally planned to skip the meeting.

That changed on Wednesday, the very day before the meeting  The events of the work week were snowballing and when a coworker said something about the upcoming meeting, it flipped the switch internally.  On Saturday, we were shorthanded and ended up having to split two routes, resulting in the curtailing of standard flats, and probably raw as well.  I made a point to case all my raw, and leave just the flats for the regular for whom I was filling in. The way that whole situation was handled by management was still resonating at least through Tuesday.  On Monday, one of the regulars told me that she wishes they'd called her in, that she'd have come in to help contain the chaos, and then asked for a different day off that week.  It was still being talked about on Tuesday, with some murmurs about X-time being owed, who would have come in, and just the overall disgruntlement one would expect there to be.  And then on Wednesday, the subject of the meeting came up, and how it was primarily about electing new officers.  That's when one of the carriers said that if they couldn't fill all the officer positions, our chapter would be absorbed into the Skagit chapter.  I already knew that, but when she repeated it at that moment, it jarred me.  When I transferred to the office I'm at now (before that actually), I noticed something about management there that wasn't at the office I was transferring from.  Four years later, that particular problem remains, though there is a little more effort to take care of it.  (A glaring moment of lapse, however, befell me yesterday, more on that in a bit.)  But since then, I've noticed other problems in our office, as all my fellow coworkers from every craft have.  It just struck me that we're having some infantile and avoidable confrontations, and it just seems like it shouldn't be.  We'll always have problems; technological advancements, population growth, and other factors will keep the nature of the job in a constant state of flux.  But when the problems of our office alone overwhelm the shop steward into stepping down from that role, then it becomes clear that absorption of our chapter must not be allowed to happen.

Right now, attendance at the meetings is a little low, and it's understandable.  Most who only attend once in a blue moon wish to attend to vent frustrations, get some answers, and if necessary, get our steward to initiate discussions with management to resolve the issues.  That's what unions are for, after all.  And our district representative doesn't attend every meeting.  But even when he is there, attendance still fares so-so at best.  And we can't even get any members from across the river to attend.  I can understand nobody from Deming, Acme, or Maple Falls attending, but I'd at least like to see if we could cajole a couple people from Everson to attend.  But I digress.  The point is, even when people are steamed right around the date of the meeting, it's inconvenient for them to attend.  If we were absorbed, it's all but guaranteed no one would attend a meeting, thus ensuring that our issues would only ever compound.

I can't guarantee that I'll be a good county president.  I was told I was nominated because I'm observant.  I'll let you decide for yourselves on that one.  I've been told I'm nosy, I overthink things, and even read into things when there's nothing to read into; but I haven't been called "observant" much.  And if you wouldn't have even thought to call me that before now, then I'm probably not.  But what I do observe just in my office alone, is that we need to keep our chapter local.  Yesterday, I had a flat tire on route, and had to call the office twice before help was sent out to me (four times actually, but twice I got a busy signal).  My vehicle was immobile for an hour and a half with a flat tire.  That's sixty minutes longer than it should have been, and it's because the first supervisor I talked to didn't contact the motor pool guy.  That's an issue that wasn't even initially a compensation issue, at least not for me.  I just wanted to get back on the road and finish up and wasn't even thinking about money or O-time, or anything like that.  NOW it's a compensation issue: because I had to wait an extra hour to get help, I went over forty hours.  I got overtime this week because of two split routes, schedule changes, a second run to complete an auxiliary parcel pick up, and a really long wait on a flat tire.  Three of those four things are, in my opinion, things that could have been handled better.  And at the meeting, I heard about an issue at another office that was even worse.  I strongly believe our chapter needs to stay local for our own strength.

Looking at the County Unit map on the WARLCA website, I see it wouldn't be the worst thing to be absorbed.  Right now, our county is the only political county that is also its own county unit with WARLCA.  Other county units are at least two counties big.  Some are three.  Two of them are five whole counties with a piece of a sixth to them.  So, if we were absorbed with our neighboring three-county unit, we'd probably be renamed to the "North West" county unit.  But looking at some of the spreads on the map, I wonder how well represented some of those areas really are.  How well are the issues being handled at their levels?  I have no idea.  But ultimately, that's the key thing I can do as president, if nothing else: we can keep our resolve and focus more finely tuned by remaining our own county unit.  That's how we can make beneficial change happen for us.

And that can only happen if we have people serving as officers.  It almost seems silly, but it's true.  If next time, someone comes along with some really good ideas, I'll gladly defer to them, whatever is best for us.  I joined the union following an accident.  I'd held off joining because I wanted to work a whole year at one office first.  Those plans were quickly changed.  I joined then because I needed the union.  And at the risk of sounding like cliched movie dialogue, it seems now the union needs me.

Hi.  I'm the county unit president.