Don't Drop the Ball
(This article first appeared in the May-June 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
We’ve all heard the phrase, “I dropped the ball,” but none of us wants to be responsible for losing a game – or falling short of a big goal.
We are all responsible for organizing. None of us can sit on the sidelines watching. If we want power in our workplace, it will take all of us. As in any team sport, it takes everyone working together to win a game. While there may be many different positions, each person is responsible for doing their part to make the team successful.
No individual can carry the weight of the team. In baseball, the pitcher is often talked about as if he or she makes the team, but they are nothing if they don’t have a catcher or fielders. The entire team must work together if they want to win.
The American Postal Workers Union is no different. It’s up to each of us to make our team stronger.
Organizing isn’t easy. But we must build relationships with our co-workers who have chosen not to join the union. Believe me, I know striking up a conversation with your non-member co-worker about their issues may very well be one of the toughest conversations you have. We can give you tips and tools, but we all have to be willing to do the work.
First, introduce yourself to help set the conversation in the right direction. Let them know why you want to talk to them. Yes, we want them to join, but why should they want to? Ask them questions, and keep asking. Talk to them about their job, management, our pay, or their co-workers.
You want to find out their issues at work. If you never find out what they are, then you can’t help them see the source of their frustration, which should be management. It is management that makes the decisions that affect us most.
Many of our co-workers, and, of course, management, like to blame the union for their issues. It’s much easier to blame someone or something that they feel isn’t a real person, but an abstract idea.
Remember, though, you are the American Postal Workers Union. We are all union. If someone has a problem with “the union,” like it or not, they are referring to you. Unless we take ownership, non-members will continue to pretend they work in a non-union environment, and will never understand what we can accomplish collectively.
While you are trying to work on building a relationship with non-members, you are going to hear some excuses – such as “dues are too high” – that may make you feel instantly defensive. If you feel compelled to respond, do so briefly, but get back to asking questions and finding what their workplace issues are.
Non-members are often looking for someone or something to blame, don’t let it be you. For example:
Non-Member: I don’t like my steward or officer.
You: Why? What happened?
Non-Member: They are lazy, sit in the steward’s room, and never filed a grievance for me.
You: What was the issue or grievance you were having?
Non-Member: I got drafted on overtime when I really needed the day off.
You: Whose decision was it to draft you?
By leading the conversation back to management, you can protect your teammate and reframe the issue: It’s not non-members vs. the union, it’s all of us, working together, standing up to management.
If you can show this potential member the benefit he or she would gain from joining us, you show the bigger picture. Just as a baseball team works together, we work together.