Getting Ahead

Why Have a Union?

Why should I join and support a union? That’s a fair question from any prospective member. The answer is simple: Dignity. The union is your guarantee that the employer will treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve as an individual.

What does that mean to the average person? It means that your employer can’t change your hours without you having a say in it. It means that promotions will be granted on the basis of your ability to do the work, not how cozy you are with your supervisor. It means dealing with your employer as an equal.

Dignity means that if you are accused of wrong doing, you’ll get a fair hearing. The union grievance procedure guarantees that a proper investigation will be made of the charges and that you will protected by the rights set forth in your memorandum of understanding. And, if discipline is warranted by the evidence, it will be imposed in a fair and even-handed manner.

Dignity means that if the employer gives you an incomplete or specious answer to a question about your rights or benefits, you can double-check by asking someone who works for you.

Most of all, dignity is being able to provide yourself and your family with a decent living without sacrificing your health or self-respect.

Some people think unions are a thing of the past and are no longer necessary. While it is true that some of the worst employment practices have been eliminated, many remain and others would return if unions weren’t around to oppose them and to protect rights already won.

Joining the union is the best way to insure that your rights and benefits are protected. But simply joining the union is not enough. It takes an active membership to make sure that progress continues. Active members are the real strength of the union. Without an active and unified membership supporting them, union leaders would be powerless to protect employee rights and progress would be impossible.

The following pages describe what you need to know to be an active member. They explain how the union works so that you can learn how to make it work for you. Also described are the union benefits all members are entitled to. After reading this booklet you’ll know how union members working together are GETTING AHEAD WITH LOCAL 18.

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Unionism and Individualism

Collective action is the key to Local 18’s success in protecting individual dignity. It is also the cornerstone of union philosophy. Unionists believe that the best way to advance the long-run interests of the individual is to advance the collective interests of the group.

The best justification for this philosophy was given by a former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes. In one of his judicial opinions he stated that unions “were organized out of the necessities of the situation . . . that a single employee was helpless in dealing with an employer . . . that a union was essential to give laborers an opportunity to deal on equality with their employers.”

All individuals benefit from the improved wages and working conditions that the union negotiates, and the union is at its strongest when every individual supports it. The best atmosphere for progress is one where all employees are union members. When this is the case the union can get the best possible settlement at the bargaining table and all members will share equally in the cost of obtaining that settlement. When each individual pays his or her fair share, the union can protect each individual more effectively.

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Collective Bargaining

When a group of employees bands together to negotiate with the employer, they are engaged in collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is really just democracy in the workplace. A union committee representing employees meets with management to jointly decide what the wages and working conditions will be.

The union committee is a team of union members and full-time union staff representatives. Before meeting with the employer, the committee gets together with the other employees and decides what to seek in negotiations. Proposals for contract changes are taken directly from the suggestions of members attending union meetings. So if you think the contract needs improvement, speak up at your union meeting and your voice will be heard! It is the committee’s job to listen, to learn what the members want, and do its best to get it.

After bargaining proposals are made, meetings with the employer begin. Rarely is the result of negotiations exactly what either side wanted when they began. Collective bargaining is a matter of give and take, with labor and management gradually moving closer together. When the union committee and management reach tentative agreement on a package, the committee takes the proposed settlement back to you for a vote. If a majority doesn’t approve it, the committee will go back to the bargaining table.

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Memorandum of Understanding

The benefits and protections won by the union are formalized in a labor agreement which is signed by both sides. This memorandum of understanding is your “bill of rights” in the workplace. It is negotiated by your representatives and ratified by a vote of the membership.

The MOU describes your benefits and spells out your rights. It protects you against arbitrary actions by the employer, who can’t enforce any rules that conflict with the MOU. Each employee receives a copy of the MOU from Labor Relations or a Shop Steward. If you’re like most people, you’ll try to read it carefully and thoroughly, but give up before you’re halfway through. There’s just too much to read and understand.

Don’t worry. To everyone reading it the first time, the MOU is like a Physics textbook: it’s dry and complicated. The experiences we have on the job, where we can apply the various provisions to real-life situations, are what give the MOU life and meaning. For example, check the schedule of wage rates to see if your classification and wage rate are correct. When you work overtime for the first time, check the overtime section. Before a holiday comes, read the part concerning holidays.

The MOU won’t seem so boring if you read it using this method. If you have questions, ask a Steward or your Business Representative. They are ready and willing to discuss these matters with you and help take care of your interests.

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Grievances

The MOU can be thought of as the law of your shop just like the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land. And, like civil law, the contract provides a process (called a grievance procedure) for you to use when you think the MOU has been violated and you’ve been wronged.

Even the best MOU is worthless unless it is enforced. Employers often try to ignore the MOU, saving time or money at your expense. It is the duty of every union member to enforce the contract using the grievance procedure. If you don’t protect your rights, you will lose them.

A grievance can be filed over any dispute or disagreement arising between an employee and management concerning the interpretation or application of the MOU and/or rules and regulations governing personnel practices or working conditions applicable to employees covered by the MOU. For example, was your paycheck short? Were you disciplined unfairly? Are you being asked to work with unsafe equipment? These are all possible complaints that can be pursued through the grievance procedure.

When you have a problem like this and management won’t solve it, see your Steward. The Steward will investigate your complaint to get all the facts. If you have a valid complaint, the Steward will try to get your supervisor to correct the problem. If your supervisor doesn’t cooperate, the Steward will bring in the Union Business Representative, who is a fulltime professional grievance handler. The “Rep” investigates the case further and tries to resolve it with higher levels of management.

Eventually the two sides decide whether management was right or wrong. If agreement can’t be reached, the case may be decided by an arbitrator, who is a neutral “judge” knowledgeable in labor matters.

The outcome of each case is determined by an interpretation of the MOU. Usually it’s a simple matter of applying the MOU to the fact; sometimes, however, the MOU language isn’t clear, and the grievance is settled by a compromise. In other cases, a legitimate problem can’t be resolved because the MOU language doesn’t cover the issue. When this happens, the union tries to correct the situation by negotiating stronger MOU language in the next round of negotiations.

Regardless of the outcome, the union insures that each individual receives a fair hearing.

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Joint Labor/Management Committees

The Joint Labor/Management Committees (JLMCs) started with the formation of the Joint Resolution Board (JRB), a product of our 1996 negotiations with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP). The JRB consists of top DWP management and the leadership of Local 18. All JLMCs ultimately report to the Joint Resolution Board.

Some of these main committees have subcommittees that deal with specific issues within the jurisdiction of the main committee. The subcommittees are generally made up of members of the main committee and others with expertise in the issues that are being dealt with by the subcommittee.

Subcommittees may stay together on an ongoing basis or disband after the issue at hand has been resolved. When a subcommittee reaches a resolution on an issue, a recommendation is drafted and presented to the main committee. After the main committee reviews the recommendation, it may be implemented, if it falls within the scope of their authority, or forwarded to the JRB. When an issue reaches the JRB, it is considered, and a decision is made based on the facts, the recommendation, further research, or any combination of these factors.

The JLMC process is the accepted method of doing business at the DWP, and although it takes constant vigilance and effort from both Labor and Management, the system works.

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Joint Safety Institute

The Joint Safety Institute (JSI) is a jointly administered Trust Fund established through collective bargaining between Local 18 and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Its Trustees are jointly appointed by the union and management of the Department. Its purpose is twofold:

  • To create and foster a culture and environment that continuously improves workplace health and safety to prevent injuries and illnesses to fellow workers.
  • To promote open communications and mutual trust and respect between labor and management on issues of health and safety.

The JSI’s philosophy stresses commitment, mutual trust, and respect between labor and management.

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Joint Training Institute

Local 18 and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have forged a partnership called the Joint Training Institute (JTI). The JTI is an independent advisory body overseen by a Board of Trustees (four from the union, four from management) and administered by two full-time administrators (one union, one management).

The JTI provides Department employees represented by Local 18 with a “school” environment through which they can gain more job competencies, enhance their careers, and avail themselves of lifelong learning opportunities. The JTI aims to promote institutionalized preparatory and competency-based training and learning opportunities to create a flexible and skilled workforce and prepare both labor and management to fully participate in a changing and competitive utility industry.

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The Steward

Shop Stewards are the union’s front line representatives and some of the most important persons you’ll meet on the job. They are familiar with the MOU and are responsible for seeing that your rights are protected. If you have any questions about your job or the MOU, ask your Steward.

He or she will either have the answers or know where to get them.

Stewards are appointed by the Union Business Manager. Many have received special training in labor law, grievance handling, and other skills needed to represent you effectively. There is at least one Steward in every major work location. If you haven’t met one in your first week of work, ask your fellow workers to introduce you.

The Steward is the one who will represent you with your supervisor if there has been an infringement of your rights. You have the right to be accompanied by a Steward if you are ever called in by your supervisor for a disciplinary interview. Stewards will give you all the help they can, and if they need your assistance, please cooperate as fully and honestly as possible.

Stewards are also familiar with how the union works. They have answers to most of your questions about union procedures, meetings, and benefits.

Get to know your Steward. He or she can be a valuable friend.

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Local 18 and the IBEW

Local 18 is an affiliate of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Although our name says “electrical workers,” our members come from hundreds of different job classifications.

Today Local 18 represents over 7,800 employees working for 5 public sector employers. While most of our members are utility workers of one craft or another, they are also clerks, engineers, laborers, custodians, and tree trimmers as well as electrical workers, stretching from Boulder City, Nevada to Long Beach to the Oregon border.

To represent such a broad-based group, Local 18 depends on 250 shop stewards and 12 full-time representatives. Local 18 maintains its headquarters at 4189 W. 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA.

Local 18’s parent organization, the IBEW, has offices across the country with its International headquarters in Washington, D.C. Among the services it provides to its 1, 600 affiliates are research, legal action, coordinated bargaining, organizing, and lobbying. It works on behalf of more than 800,000 IBEW members on the national level, along with the Congress, many federal government agencies and other national organizations.

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Union Operations

Local 18’s operations follow a strong democratic tradition based on the belief that active and informed union members make an honest and progressive union.

Union officers are elected every three years in a secret ballot mail referendum. Local union rules, called by-laws, are also voted upon by the members. Finally, the members employed by each public agency vote separately on the labor agreements that determine their own working conditions.

Due to the size of the geographic area served by Local 18, the union holds unit meetings in the various geographical areas with each having its own officers and meeting. By attending the local unit meetings held each month, you can keep informed of important developments affecting your job and have a voice in making union policy.

The Local’s internal policies are established by the members through actions taken at the monthly Parent Body meetings. These policies are carried out by the staff under the direction of the Business Manager/Financial Secretary.

The Executive Board oversees the operation of the Local. Its six members and the President meet twice a month to decide on budgetary matters and to vote on issues submitted by the various units.

The Business Manager/Financial Secretary runs the day-to-day activities of the union and bears the major responsibility for establishing labor/management relations policy. He supervises the union office, the Shop Stewards, and the staff of Business Representatives. The members elect the Business Manager, who in turn appoints the Stewards and Business Representatives.

There is a negotiating committee for each public agency. They participate in all aspects of negotiations and help insure that the membership’s concerns are accurately communicated at the bargaining table.

Local 18’s structure offers many opportunities for a member to be involved. Your participation makes the union strong, and you are invited to serve as a union officer, Steward or committee member.

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Legislation

Unions have played a major role in passing laws to benefit working people. Social security benefits would not exist if unions hadn’t demanded them. Neither would unemployment insurance, child labor laws or disability benefits. The fair labor standards laws that call for an 8-hour day, 40-hour week and which require overtime payments for hours worked above those limits would not have been passed without labor support. The same is true for occupational health laws like OSHA that require employers to provide a safe workplace.

These programs and others like them came about only through the promotion and support of the labor movement. This support is provided in four different ways: 1) lobbying; 2) endorsing; 3) contributing; and 4) getting out the vote.

Lobbying is one area where Local 18 is particularly active. Local 18’s staff actively deals with elected officials in order to insure that these public servants know the facts and figures behind labor’s position on the issues.

Endorsing is another important part of political action. Local 18 endorses the candidates it thinks would best represent the interests of working people. But before an endorsement is granted, the candidates are carefully screened. They are invited to appear before a committee of union delegates to state their qualifications and platforms. The committee explores their voting records and examines their past performances.

After all candidates for an office are screened, the committee debates and votes on which candidate deserves an endorsement. Sometimes no candidate is judged better than any other, and no endorsement is given. The same process is used for determining recommendations on ballot propositions.

The endorsement is no substitute for individual judgment. It’s up to every member to examine the facts and vote his or her conscience. But a union endorsement is good evidence that a candidate has the qualifications you want in your elected officials.

Contributing is done through the Local 18 Defense League on the Committee on Political Education (COPE). Monies from these funds are used to support the candidates that Local 18, IBEW and COPE endorsed.

Getting out the vote is an area where unions have an advantage over corporations. Big business may have “big bucks” but only unions are able to enlist volunteers to make telephone calls, send campaign literature, drive people to the polls and do other things that increase voter turnout.

Labor can’t afford to stay out of the political process. The gains that are made at the bargaining table can be wiped out with the flash of a pen signing bad legislation. Unless we are willing to let big corporations dominate our politicians, we must be active in politics.

So the next time you are asked to support the Local 18 Defense League or COPE, say “yes” by contributing. Write to your representatives and tell them how you feel. And above all, vote in every election.

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Family Service Benefits

There are two main benefits of union membership. The most important benefit is the voice you have in determining your wages, hours, and working conditions. But your membership in Local 18 also entitles you to certain family service benefits. (See your Steward or contact our office for details.)

IBEW Union Privilege Programs. Legal Service, free and discounted legal service, 888/993-8886; special union credit card with low interest and no annual fee (contact Local 18 for application, or apply by calling 800/522-4000, or on the internet at http://www.unionpluscard.com/).

Local 18 Sponsored Health & Dental Plan. Currently available to LADWP employees. In addition to the customary benefits, the Plan also includes vision, chiropractic, acupuncture, body scan and mental health benefits. For a complete rundown on the plan visit our website at http://www.ibewlocal18.org/ or to have your questions answered, please call Local 18’s Benefit Service Center at 800/842-6635.

Scholarship Fund. Local 18 offers two $500 Trade School Grants, yearly, to Union members enrolling in Technical, Industrial, or Trade Schools. In addition, the International Union offers, to its members, twelve Founders’ Scholarships annually for university study leading to bachelor’s degrees in fields contributive to the development and improvement of the electrical industry. The scholarships are worth up to $3000 per year to a maximum of eight years.

Educational Assistance. Local 18 will finance the tuition fees and up to 50% of the cost of required books, of labor-related courses, provided applicant follows the required steps.

Shop Stewards’ Injured Workers Fund. Assistance for members who have sustained an on-the-job injury.

Death Benefits. As long as you remain an active member in good standing, you are covered by $5000 life insurance. Your spouse and children (see policy) are also covered by $500 life insurance.

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Dues, Initiation Fees, and Types of Membership

The union dues structure is established by union members through majority vote. It is designed to be fair and equitable.

Initiation Fees. There are no initiation fees at Local.

Dues. Local union portion is 1% of your monthly salary. This means that the support you give the union is relative to the wage or salary you receive.

The International Union per capita is used by the International Office in Washington to support its activities. The amount of per capita paid to the International is set at the International Convention by delegates you elect.

The rest of your dues are spent at the local level for collective bargaining, legal action, education and other services.

Types of Membership. There are two types of membership offered by Local 18. First it should be understood that in the matter of representation, there is no difference. We have “BA” and “A” types of membership available. Both afford the member full voice and vote in the affairs of Local 18. However, those who elect to become “A” members are entitled to the pension and insurance benefits of the IBEW. The premium for the extra benefits amounts to $12.00 per month. Members who do not want the IBEW pension and insurance benefits are known as “BA” members and, of course, do not pay the premium for these benefits.

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Brotherhood and Bureaucracy

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Of all the words in our name, “brotherhood” is by far the most important. It may sound corny, but unionists believe there is more to being a union member than just paying dues. It is a matter of caring for fellow members and considering their welfare to be as important as your own.

While the spirit of brotherhood seems to be rare in this world of big business, big government and even big unions, Local 18 believes it is as important as ever. That’s why our Business Representatives, your Business Representatives, routinely work up to 60 or 70 hours per week. That is why our Shop Stewards give up evenings with their families to do union business.

Creating the spirit of brotherhood in a large organization is, however, a difficult task. With a staff of 250 Stewards and over 7,800 members, Local 18 sometimes looks more like the “Bureaucracy” of Electrical Workers than the Brotherhood. Sometimes the press of business prevents your phone call to the union hall from being returned the same day. The union newspaper may not carry news about your coworkers frequently enough.

These problems may dim the flame of brotherhood, but they don’t extinguish it. When a union member addresses a fellow member as “Brother . . .” or “Sister . . .”, it is spoken sincerely.

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Glossary

AFL-CIO – American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. A federation of 54 international unions coordinating the activities of many American unions. It does not participate in collective bargaining, but does engage in research, education, public relations and lobbying.

Agency Shop – A provision which is negotiated to provide union security. Employees who are members of a bargaining unit, and elect not to be union members, must pay a fee equal to union dues to help defray the union’s cost as their representative.

Arbitration – A way of settling disputes by calling in an impartial third party who decides the outcome. Arbitration is the ultimate step in the grievance procedure.

Business Manager – The elected officer directing the day-to-day operation of the union, including supervision of all union employees. He is responsible for establishing labor relations policies.

Business Representative – An employee of the union who, under the direction of the Business Manager and his assistants, carries out the policies of the Local Union and provides professional grievance handling and negotiating services to a particular group of members.

Check-off – A system whereby members authorize the employer to deduct monthly union dues from their regular paychecks and turn the money over to the union.

COPE – Shortened name of the AFL’s Committee On Political Education. This committee gathers voluntary contributions to support political candidates and propositions which help working people.

Executive Board – An elected union board made up of the union President and six board members. They hold monthly meetings to approve bills, establish policies and conduct union business.

Grievance Procedure – A complaint process that unionized employees can use to resolve problems with their employer.

IBEW – International Brotherhood of Electrical Worker, one of the 54 international unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, representing utility workers, electrical workers, communication workers and public employees in the United States and Canada.

Local Union – An affiliate of an international union providing direct representation for employees of a particular employer or geographic area. Local 18 represents utility workers in California, Nevada, and the Owens Valley.

Maintenance of Membership – A union security provision requiring employees already members of the union to maintain their membership for a certain length of time.

Mediation – A way to prevent negotiations from reaching a stalemate. Mediation uses a neutral third party to act as a friend of both sides and find a basis on which the union and employer can voluntarily work things out.

Employee Relations Board (ERB) – A City board that enforces the Employee Ordinance which applies to workers employed by the City of Los Angeles.

Per Capita – The portion of your union dues sent to the International Union. The amount of per capita is set by a vote of delegates at the International Convention.

Right-to-Work Laws – The name used by anti-union people to describe state laws banning union security provisions. These laws do not give anyone a guaranteed right to a job.

Scabs or Strikebreakers – People who continue to work or accept employment with an employer while workers are on strike. By filling strike jobs they may weaken or break the strike.

Seniority – The length of service an employee has with an employer. The length of membership in the union is called “union time.”

Steward – A volunteer who acts as the union’s front line representative on the job. See your Steward for answers to jobrelated questions and for help on solving problems with your employer.

Union Security – The union’s right to exist as an organization. This right is usually protected by contract provisions calling for dues check-off, maintenance of membership, agency shop or union shop.

Surge – Local 18’s official newsletter.

Worker’s Compensation – A set of benefits guaranteed by law to compensate workers for injury suffered as a result of their employment.

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