Monday, June 13, 2011

Practicing What We Preach: Why WIN Employees Have a Union

by Rev. Rebekah Gienapp, executive director   
    When workers decide to form unions, often their employers go on the rampage. Holding lengthy meetings with workers to talk about the evils of unions, threatening to close the business, and illegally firing union supporters are all too common. But here at Workers Interfaith Network, I welcomed the opportunity for our employees to form a union, even though I am the "manager" around here.

WIN employees celebrate the signing of our first union contract.
   Two weeks ago, WIN signed a union contract with the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, Local 36047 of the Communication Workers of America. Why do we see this as a good thing for our organization and for our employees? Here's a few reasons:
  • Our employees deserve to have a voice in decisions made around here. This includes decisions about how their work should be done. A union contract provides a framework for that kind of collaborative decision-making.
  • It's not healthy for one person in an organization to have all the power. Everyone has biases, including me. Having a set process for disciplining employees helps limit that bias. And, if an employee, feels like I have made an unfair decision that doesn't follow our union contract, we have a way to work out that dispute.
  • The contract makes clear to our employees our commitment to pay living wages and provide health and retirement benefits. These are the things we advocate for every day for workers throughout Memphis. We want to provide the same kind of good jobs we advocate for here at WIN. We were already paying living wages and providing benefits before the contract was signed. But now we can't arbitrarily change those things without negotiating with our employees.
  • We're now a formal part of the labor movement, which has done so much for all workers - not just union members. We can thank unions for so many things - the minimum wage, the 8 hour work day, the end of child labor, and much more. Our employees' union membership is a small way to strenghten this important movement.
  • Union membership gives WIN access to quality health care and retirement plans at a reasonable cost. Because we're now part of national plans through the Communication Workers, our health care premiums are much lower than they would be otherwise.
    Too many employers see any gain for their workers as a loss for their organization or business. Here at WIN, we see things differently. Treating our employees the way we want all workers to be treated brings integrity to our work. It helps create an atmosphere of loyalty, where WIN employees stick around for the long haul to organize for justice. And as a supervisor, the presence of a union reminds me to check my own actions with employees for fairness. Because I don't know about you, but I always find room for improvement in myself!

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