AT&T management is required to report activities such as pickets, wearing of union buttons, et cetera “up the chain” and this information is used to gauge employee participation in the effort to win a contract. Naturally, low participation will not get the AT&T bargaining team to move off of its worker-hating positions. Only pain and humiliation (financial and reputational) will move AT&T management at the bargaining table. This means job-actions that interfere with production and/or are publicly embarrassing.
During a typical bargaining cycle with its unions, AT&T employees are often exhorted by their union leadership to conduct job-actions to “get movement” at the bargaining table. These typically range from low-/no-risk things like buttons, informational pickets etc. and escalate to things that bring pain to management such as “not volunteering” for overtime and working to the rule.
Under US labor law, union leadership is allowed to participate and even lead these “safe” job actions.
“Safe” job-actions don’t work!
What does work is walking off the job when management gets stupid – even if for only a few minutes. However, US labor law, which is heavily tilted toward employers, does not allow union leadership to repeatedly call job-actions that halt or slow production; the NLRB has deemed these actions as “intermittent strikes” or “partial strikes.” These are currently unprotected by the National Labor Relations Board. Union leaders who are caught by AT&T planning and organizing such activities, especially when any “no-strike” clause is in effect, risk discipline or termination for themselves or their members.
However, job-actions that arise spontaneously within the rank-and-file in response to a “serious” unfair labor practice (ULP) are protected concerted activity. This means that it is unlawful for an employer to discipline or otherwise injure an employee who exercises his right to participate in a job-action.
What is a “serious” ULP?
Examples of ways management can draw an “instant picket line” by their actions include:
- Refusal by boss to timely process grievances or information requests related to grievances
- Interfering with lawful union activities related to bargaining, such as wearing buttons, pins or other pieces of “union flare”
- Threatening employees for filing a Board charge or grievance
- Interfering with two or more employees who are acting in concert to protect their rights (Remember: Safety in numbers!)
So, if the law only allows unions to “spontaneously” take a walk when management screws up by committing a ULP, and union leadership is not allowed to “encourage” ULP strikes, how can we get feet on the street?
Where the bullshit comes in to make job-actions “organic”
The law says union leaders can’t organize ULP strikes; they must arise organically within the rank-and-file. But, it does not prevent the union leaders from:
- Educating the members on tactics to preserve their rights at work such as grievance-strikes, ULP strikes, etc
- Nor does the law prevent educating union members on their rights to take action when they learn of a ULP
- Nor does the law prevent union members from communicating job-action information using private, untraceable communications that self-destruct
- Nor does it prevent union leaders from informing the membership of any affected work-group that their grievances are being stalled by management.
- Get the drift?
When a local union trains its members to act on their rights, and sensitizes them to ULP’s, and provides them with opportunities to be pissed off, getting them to not walk on a daily basis will be the “problem!”
What is your local union doing to show you that management is the problem?