How can a union help?
Many non-unionized workplaces, such as at Whittier Street, have an “employment-at-will” policy that allows the employer to fire an employee for any reason, at any time (even while asking that the employee provide advance notice if he decides to leave). In the history of Whittier Street we have seen a number of providers and other employees abruptly released, often with unclear reasons for dismissal, in sometimes demoralizing and disruptive ways. This has promoted an environment at Whittier where staff are afraid to speak up out of fear that they could be the next to be asked to leave.
Due process is a powerful concept for ensuring that employees are treated fairly in the resolving of grievances and disciplining of employees. Nearly all collective bargaining agreements have due process provisions which maintain that an employee be given notice and an opportunity to respond to any allegations made by the employer. An employee is normally supported through the process by a union legal representative. The purpose of due process is not to protect an under-performing employee but rather to protect the employee from unfair actions by the employer (see below links for more details).
A contract with a due process provision would likely have a tremendous effect on our ability and willingness to speak out and engage with management to solve problematic workplace issues at Whittier Street, and is probably the single most important benefit of a union to us.
Right to meet regularly with management
After employees choose a union as a bargaining representative, federal law requires that the employer and union meet regularly to bargain in good faith about the condition of employment, workplace practices, wages, benefits, and other mandatory subjects. Labor-management committees discuss and work out solutions to these problems.
Under these requirements, engagement with staff is no longer at the discretion of management, but, rather, staff are considered integral partners in solving workplace matters.
Quality of life at work and quality of care for patients
The collective bargaining process normally addresses a variety of workplace quality-of-life issues that also affect the quality of care that we provide for our patients. This includes such issues as staffing ratios, safety of care, overtime and on-call issues, and the need for support structures that help us develop our professional skills and obtain needed clinical support in the care of our patients.
Wages and benefits
A traditional focus of contract negotiations in most unions is of course benefits and wages. Unionized workplaces almost always earn higher wages and benefit packages than in similar non-unionized workplaces. Our primary goal would likely be to push for a sustainable pay structure at Whittier Street that does not cause undue financial stress to the health center, but a number of wage and benefit issues are problematic at Whittier and deserve attention, including different wages paid to people of the same job description, the need for automatic salary payments to providers while they’re on vacation, review of proposed benefit changes with staff before they are enacted, and many others.