How I became a union rep for a week
By Dr. Larry Fedewa (April 14, 2019)
My first experience of a union came early. I had finished my first year as a high school teacher and was hired for the summer by a national weekly newspaper as a proof reader. My status in the organization was quickly determined by my assignment to the night shift.
That timing worked out well for me since I was also back in college for some courses required to get my Colorado teaching certificate. Things were going well, and I was promoted after the first month to an exempt (salaried) position as copy editor. This put me in the company of the editors and reporters, which was an exciting development for a young guy.
One day, a senior editor dropped by my desk and quietly invited me to an after-hours “party” at his house. Flattered, I quickly agreed. It turned out that the “party” was actually a meeting of the entire newsroom for the purpose of activating a just granted Department of Labor mandate to management to arrange for a vote on whether or not to join a union. The right to have the vote on company time was not in dispute. The problem was, who was going to approach the publisher with the news that the government had approved the application?
We were all leery of our mercurial publisher. It was assumed by all that, if the vote failed, the identifiable leaders of the union initiative would be out on the street forthwith. Even if it didn’t fail, those same leaders would undoubtedly be faced with righteous wrath. Of course, none of this had anything to do with me.
WRONG! All of a sudden, my gracious host turned to me and said, “Son, we’d like you to carry the message to Mr. (Publisher). You have the least to lose – after all, you’ll be leaving soon anyway to go back to another career. Plus you have no history of clashing with him and he likes you. And finally, you won’t be joining the union anyway, so he has minimum leverage on you.”
There may have been somebody somewhere in Colorado more surprised than I was at that moment, but I doubt it! What ensued was a sort of roundtable in which each person there gave me his (no women) version of why I should talk to the Big Chief, what I should say, why a union was long overdue, and why I was the right representative. I probably should have walked out some time during this display. Instead, I felt sorry for these poor guys. They had gotten themselves into a bad situation and they didn’t have the guts to fix it. Plus, they were right about my unique position. So, I finally agreed.
I had the meeting. When I asked to see Mr. Publisher, he apparently thought I wanted fatherly advice. At any rate, he invited me to lunch at his club. I could see trouble ahead, but I couldn’t turn him down, standing in the corridor outside the newsroom. That was quite a meeting! But, beet red face notwithstanding, he agreed. The vote was held. The union got only two votes against. A week later, I left to get married – leaving behind a lot of hearty thanks and goodbyes – and one serious enemy
Don’t forget to listen to the Dr. Larry Show after the Donelson Files Wednesday.