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Author Topic: working for a union
Meow
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posted 18 July 2005 12:52 PM      Profile for Meow     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm interested in working for a union, either in an organizing or negotiating capacity. To those of you who already working for unions, do you have any advice as to how I should begin my journey? Any helpful words would be appreciated.
From: Toronto | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
lagatta
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posted 18 July 2005 01:11 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What are you studying, Meow?

At the CSN, union counsellors were about in equal numbers professionals hired for specific skills (lawyers, economists, health-and-safety specialists etc.) but with a background and concern for social issues, and militants who came out of local unions and often labour struggles.

If you are studying in any of the relevant professions you should see about working as a trainee/intern with a union, whether in your town, in Toronto or with the CLC in Ottawa.

Working for a union is exhilirating when you succeed in organising people or negotiating alongside them and really making an improvement in their living standards and in their being treated with dignity. It can also be exasperating on at least two levels. You may find yourself working far longer hours than the people you are working to help, under a lot of stress, taking on other people's problems. Moreover the bureaucracy in many large organisations - not just unions - often seems at cross-purposes to their mission. That said, it is certainly a socially-useful job and one people are proud to do.

I have worked on contract for the CSN (I translate a lot of stuff for unions here, but freelance now) but I believe vicky in Ottawa is currently working for the CLC or an affiliate. I know some babblers are.


From: Se non ora, quando? | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
robbie_dee
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posted 18 July 2005 01:26 PM      Profile for robbie_dee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You may find these websites to be particularly helpful resources:

www.unionjobs.com

www.labourstartjobs.org

As Lagatta indicated above, a number of unions I am familiar with do a lot of their hiring from the rank and file membership - particularly for organizing and negotiating positions. At the same time, they also do hire a few "experts" from outside, particularly in areas like research, communications and of course legal. If you have skills or education in those areas, it might improve your prospects.

Of course, you could go the rank and file route, either taking a job in a workplace where you would be a member of a union and then working your way up, or taking a job in a non-union workplace and organizing from within. The latter, which is sometimes called "salting," can be very exciting and educational, as well as an opportunity to get recognized quickly if you choose to organize your workplace with an established union. At the same time, there is also often a lot of politics around moving from a rank and file job to a union staff position, particularly when such employment is viewed as a "perk" and a cushier alternative to the day to day grind in the bargaining unit.

A couple of other thoughts:

If you want to get into union organizing immediately, and you are willing to go south of the border for work, you might also check out the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute, which recruits activists from both inside and outside the labour movement for training, internships and placements with participating unions. A warning - things are a little unsettled in the U.S. labour movement right now. There may be big changes coming. There will still be lots of jobs, but maybe not so much job security.

If you want to be an organizer but would prefer to stay in Canada, I understand from a recent Our Times article that the BC Federation of Labour has established an Organizing Institute similar to the one in the United States, but I am not sure how one would get involved with it.

[ 18 July 2005: Message edited by: robbie_dee ]


From: Iron City | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
lagatta
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posted 18 July 2005 01:32 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Robbie, I worked in the union communications service and came out of the ranks. There are a lot of communications workers at the CSN, including the journalists at Radio-Canada (and the English CBC in Québec and northern New Brunswick). Moreover, while some of the lawyers were young'uns out of law school - many who had been involved in social struggles as students - not a few were rank-and-file people who went back to read law, often as part-time adult students or on educational leave.
From: Se non ora, quando? | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
robbie_dee
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posted 18 July 2005 01:40 PM      Profile for robbie_dee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Oh - I didn't mean that unions hire their "expert" staff exclusively from the outside, just that in my experience it was more likely to happen in those positions than for organizers and reps.

I think it is best when rank and file members are able to take staff positions because they are often most familiar with the needs and experiences of the members. At the same time, I think that there are some very talented people coming from social movements and other places outside of organized labour who may also have something valuable to offer.

Either way, there is also some politics involved, which I thought it was fair to warn Meow about, too.


From: Iron City | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
Erstwhile
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posted 18 July 2005 01:44 PM      Profile for Erstwhile     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
EDIT: Somehow I figured I'd end up about tenth in the queue! Oh well...Robbie and Lagatta are on the ball, as per usual...!

Well, Meow, not knowing anything about your background (other than that you're a 23-year-old student, according to your profile!), I'll throw in my two cents.

Also, I'm speaking purely from the negotiator perspective - I'm not at all involved in organizing.

If you're currently a member of a union, see if you can get involved as a shop steward or a member of the Bargaining Committee. This will give you experience with workplace grievances or the bargaining process. (Some unions encourage their shop stewards to file grievances, some are more centralized and prefer that the on-staff union representatives bring the actual grievance - but regardless, a shop steward should be involved at the early stages of a problem.) This will be invaluable experience when applying for jobs as a union representative.

Also, most unions will have an "organizer school" that will train their union organizers. Check that out, as well as any other similar training that the union might offer re: negotiating, workplace dispute resolution, etc.

As Lagatta has mentioned, there are basically two paths to a job of this sort - coming up "through the ranks" as a union member, or getting training/education that unions will require. There are a number of academic backgrounds that can be useful in getting a job of this kind, I think. Most universities will have a Labour Relations school, either as part of their Commerce group or perhaps as a separate school. Queen's, I believe, offers a fairly specialized Masters in Industrial Relations degree. Something like that might assist in getting a job as a staff/union representative or negotiator.

(As an aside, while many employers hire consultants or lawyers to negotiate Collective Agreements for them, in my experience most unions don't for the simple reason that their staff is usually unionized and therefore hiring a consultant would be "contracting out"! Hence, if union reps resign/retire and go the consultancy route, they often end up doing the vast majority of their work for management!)

A legal background is a possibility, though a law degree is, in itself, likely not going to get you a job with a trade union, though if you're interested in working as a labour lawyer, obviously this is the route to take. You'd likely want to have some experience either within a union or doing labour law before looking for work in the labour movement.

That said, keep your eyes on the Careers section of your local paper (that's where I found my job), on-line, etc. Even if you don't think you're qualified there's nothing wrong with applying Depending on the job and circumstances, sometimes just expressing your enthusiasm for the field can at least get you an interview...which can lead to other stuff down the road.

Lagatta's pretty much hit the nail on the head about the pros and cons of working for a union. While I've only been at this for a wee while it is a very challenging field - often frustrating, occasionally satisfying, never boring.

[ 18 July 2005: Message edited by: Erstwhile ]


From: Deepest Darkest Saskabush | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged
robbie_dee
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posted 18 July 2005 01:51 PM      Profile for robbie_dee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I see from your location line that you are from Hamilton, Meow, and I couldn't let it go without saying that your hometown university, McMaster, offers a Master of Arts in Work and Society that I have heard good things about. I am not sure how many of their graduates go into the labour movement after completing the program (as opposed to academia or Human Resources or government employment) but it is worth investigating I am sure.

[ 18 July 2005: Message edited by: robbie_dee ]


From: Iron City | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
Sara Mayo
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posted 18 July 2005 01:55 PM      Profile for Sara Mayo     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
If you choose to go the education route, Meow, you'll definetely want to check out McMaster's Labour Studies Programme. Although, Meow, being from Hamilton, you must know about it already.

The program is definitely pro-labour compared to other school's Industrial relations programs.

If you do the graduate program, you will also be a TA, which is especially useful since McMaster's TAs are unionized with CUPE. You can get involved at a very high level very quickly with that union and add that experience as well as your education to your CV.

Edited to add: Robbie, I didn't see your post... great minds think alike!

[ 18 July 2005: Message edited by: Sara Mayo ]


From: "Highways are monuments to inequality" - Enrique Penalosa | Registered: Feb 2003  |  IP: Logged
Meow
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posted 18 July 2005 03:07 PM      Profile for Meow     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
thanks to everyone for your help, I really appreciate all your advice.

To those of you who were wondering about my background: I'm actually a graduate from the Mcmaster Labour Studies program, so I can attest that it is a good primer in labour relations, and indeed fairly politically radical. I really enjoyed myself in the program. The only drawback to it is that it didn't really provide me with a lot of "technical expertise" in any specific field. I suppose most undergraduate programs are like that though.

So far most of my work experience is in career counselling, but this is not what I necessarily envision myself doing permanantly. Helping someone write a resume (while a necessary function..) doesn't really fullfill my desire to take part in meaningful social change. I'm looking into graduate work right now, but moreso i'm looking for entry level positions in labour relations. I don't want to go back to school for 2 more years until i'm fairly certain that I want to be in a particular field.

I'm going to try applying for some of the things from the websites that were mentioned. It might be a shot in the dark since neither of them seem to be updated all that often!

Thanks again to everyone for your help.


From: Toronto | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
Erstwhile
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posted 18 July 2005 04:04 PM      Profile for Erstwhile     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Good luck, Meow!
From: Deepest Darkest Saskabush | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged
lagatta
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posted 18 July 2005 04:28 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You could even get your foot in the door working at a clerical position, and getting involved in organising struggles. Do check out possible internships - ask around as everyone has said.
From: Se non ora, quando? | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
robbie_dee
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Babbler # 195

posted 18 July 2005 05:04 PM      Profile for robbie_dee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Meow, some of your professors at McMaster may have connections within the labour movement, too. If there was a particular class you enjoyed, or a professor you thought you made an impression with, you should try to talk to that professor about your interests. S/he may be able to make an introduction on your behalf or at least point you in the right direction.

Also, this posting from unionjobs.com is only a month old, its in Toronto, and it appears to be appropriate for someone with your background. You might want to give the SEIU a call to see if the position is still open.

quote:
RESEARCH ASSOCIATE
TORONTO, ONTARIO

Join the Fight for Social Justice -
Research Injustice to Help Empower Workers!

A progressive Canadian organizing union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is seeking a creative and hardworking Research Associate to be part of our aggressive organizing and bargaining team in Canada, based in Toronto, Ontario. SEIU is a progressive union that uses extensive research to help workers build their union and improve their lives. The Research Associate will respond to requests from Local and International staff and compile, research, present and summarize information to support SEIU's programs.

Education and Experience

Bachelors degree in labor relations, statistics or other related degree. Prior research experience, even as a student, or any equivalent combination of education and experience that provides the following knowledge, skills and abilities: knowledge of research techniques and processes, and quantitative techniques and analysis; ability to use spreadsheets, databases and on-line research services on a personal computer; ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing; ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures; and commitment to justice for working people. Union organizing experience desirable. Fluency in French and English is highly desirable.

Competitive salary, vacation and benefits. People of color, women, Aboriginal persons, and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply. See our website www.seiu.org for more information about SEIU. To apply, send a résumé, cover letter, and analytical research paper as a writing sample to:

Karen Dolan
SEIU Canada
75 The Donway West, Suite 810
North York, ON, M3C 2E9

fax (416) 447-2428
or email dolank@seiu.ca .

We thank all applicants for their interest. However, only those considered for an interview will be contacted.



From: Iron City | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
The Hegemo
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posted 18 July 2005 08:55 PM      Profile for The Hegemo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I've been working for about a year and a half as a researcher for an SEIU local. As noted already, unionjobs.com is a good site to check. You might also take a look at idealist.org -- I found my current job on there (although it is mostly U.S.-based stuff, I believe they have some Canadian jobs advertised). You also ought to take a look at the home pages of unions you'd be interested in working for, as jobs are frequently listed there, including jobs with locals.

Lots of good advice given already, not a lot I can add, although if you're interested in research, you can PM me with any questions you have.

BTW, robbie_dee, the word is that the AFL-CIO's OI is shutting down (or being radically downsized into something else) at the end of this month.


From: The Persistent Vegetative States of America | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged
robbie_dee
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posted 17 January 2006 03:31 PM      Profile for robbie_dee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Bumped to redirect responses from this thread:

Do careers exist within a union?


From: Iron City | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
slimpikins
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posted 18 January 2006 08:33 PM      Profile for slimpikins     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I guess that it's almost all been said already. I work as a rep for UFCW, and came from the rank and file, as have virtually everyone I work with, except the lawyers and one workers comp rep.

I do know one rep, although I don't work with him, who got a full time job with a Union through organizing his workplace, then becoming chief steward, and then a rep. Something to think about.


From: Alberta | Registered: May 2005  |  IP: Logged

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