I have mixed feelings about unions. There are things I like about their (general) practices, and there are also things I’m not a fan of. I might write more about 1. It would be fun for me to share and maybe fun for you to read. unions and my thoughts on them another day 1, but today I want to talk about the role of unions as it concerns employee advocacy.
I actually think most employers do a very good job of giving their employees a fair grievance process in which they have a platform to defend themselves against claims of wrongdoing, report unfair or disparate treatment, and express their views concerning company policies and practices that they disagree with. Furthermore, legislation like the Fair Labor Standards Act and Family Medical Leave Act provide employees with most of the protections they historically required unions for.
Union membership has declined accordingly.
…With that said, many people don’t know how to advocate for themselves. They are terrible at it. Sometimes this is because they are poor communicators. Others are simply too passive to speak up when something is wrong or unfair. There are also those that can articulate a problem and are bold enough to do so… but lack the social tact to communicate their message in a way that is well received and generates action.
Generally speaking, this is more true of employees in unskilled and less educated workforces (the groups that typically unionize) than it is the professional and managerial ranks.
Do these people need an advocate in the form of a union steward or some other representative? Or is part of life just about learning how to influence others and stand up for yourself (and what you believe in)?
I’m inclined to say the latter, but it’s easy for me to say that having had a background that afforded me the lessons needed to become good at those things. For a shy, introverted high school dropout that has never been encouraged – let alone taught how – to do anything but keep their head down and do as they’re told, the issue of personal advocacy is much more complex.
As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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