Notes from the Stewards Council: Union Always Benefits Workers, Encourages Supervisors to Give More Than Contract Minimum

One of the most common reports that stewards receive from workers is some version of the following.

“I just talked to [Human Resources or a manager or an administrator, etc.] and they said that they’d love to give me [more money or a promotion or time off, etc.], but the darn union won’t let them!”

To be clear: the union will never—ever, under any circumstances—tell a worker’s supervisor that they can’t give workers more money, help, support, or the like. That wouldn’t make sense, because we, the workers of UO, are the union. Why would workers tell management not to help workers?

The confusion seems to revolve around what it means to have a Collective Bargaining Agreement. In some cases, management will erroneously fail to notice the fact that the bargaining agreement is actually collective. Labor bargains the terms of the contract with management. If we union workers were writing the contract by ourselves, the UO would look much different than it does now. We like to think that it would be more functional, equitable, trailblazing and generally desirable as a home for workers, students and faculty. Management has different ideas on many of these points, and those are reflected in the final contract. The next time a supervisor complains that the union contract is tying their hands, politely remind them that management also wrote that contract and agreed to it.

More importantly, the contract establishes only the minimum responsibility of supervisors with regard to their workers. To put it bluntly, the contract only clarifies the least that management is required to do. If supervisors want to go above and beyond the minimum contract language and establish the UO as a leader in employer-labor relations, then the union wholeheartedly and unreservedly supports such action.

Management wants to pay you more? Great! The union is on board. We will never step in and say “no, the contract states that you can only do the bare minimum for your workers.” Actually, we have this strange notion that the UO can and should be a leader in workforce equity, fair negotiations, and worker satisfaction.

The next time that management cites the union or the contract as a reason not to support workers, feel free to leave a message on the Steward Hotline by calling 541 346 0321 and maybe even forward management a copy of this article.

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SEIU Local 503 Sublocal 085: University of Oregon
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