Saturday, May 7, 2011

Caveat Lectores on Labor Union Involvement:

May 7, 2011

Today's installment is from the Introduction to Finding the Forest without Any Trees, the general public employee’s version of The Survivor’s Guide to a Successful Public Sector Union: Fire/Rescue Edition published in 2008.

The original book has been very well received by a relatively small audience. We will release this version soon but we are making it available in serial version to our Caveat Lectores Blog readers now.

During my first sixteen years of involvement with the labor movement, I seldom held elected office in a meaningful way with my home Locals. While the leadership allowed me to work at various positions within Tampa IAFF Local 754 , too many members distrusted me to vote me into a major leadership position. Why they distrusted me was obvious, even to me.

My skills as an external politician were adequate to say the least, but I was arrogant, unforgiving and a terrible internal politician. I openly opposed many of the usual courses of action toward which rank and file members naturally gravitate. In other words, I was a very poor internal politician. It is only the years that have cooled my penchant for speaking when I should listen and learn.

I grudgingly accepted the fact that I was a non-leader. But, I have learned to be an excellent adviser. Read on!

My unacceptable ideas were based on business models learned in a classroom or experienced in business. At 27, when I entered the public sector as a firefighter, I had business experience as well as two degrees in business administration, a rarity in the early 70's fire service. There was a natural tendency among union members and their leaders, for that matter, to distrust anything resembling a management idea; therefore, nearly all my ideas were suspect. At one time, this viewpoint frustrated me.

I did not take the ill-advised things that management would attempt to push into the workplace all that personally. To me, management was just what it was. It was their job to run the workplace and the union’s job to look after the welfare of the members.

My not so original and not necessarily accurate personal opinion was that most of management was either incapable or unwilling to do a good job. Their deficiency just made more work for the union. I was merely trying to figure out how to get what we wanted to the exclusion of really empathizing with the feelings of the members. That was a big mistake.

Some of the ideas that come from management are actually for the good of all, while others are designed to get more while giving less. Let’s face it; we at the union level are looking out for ourselves, just like management and the politicians. They may be greedy and power hungry, but so are we…at least a little. What’s wrong with that?

Today, I recognize the failure of my attempts at leadership as the failure to understand my role as more than a lost soul peering into the forest without any trees. Union leadership is or should be that of an organizer, teacher, administrator, politician, caretaker of the members trust……. There is no priority to this list. All of the functions are equally important.

Cradle to grave service is what the members of any union expect and deserve from their leadership. Allow one branch to wither and the tree in the forest without any trees begins to wither and die as well.

So what makes me write this book?

Well, the book you are reading is something of a sequel to the first book by a similar name. That book, which is widely accepted as authoritative to its target audience, is directed to fire/rescue personnel, but the lessons apply equally well to all public employees. This book has been changed to conform to the needs of general public sector employees. One day there may be an edition for law enforcement and public educators as well. A significant number of my clients are public sector but not fire/rescue oriented. What will work for the firefighters will work for your Local. You only need to vary some of the approaches just a little.
And oh yes, have a nice Day?


Caveat Lectores by Jeff Carnes

Read at your own risk.

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Christopher Stark said...

Jeff, you weren't arrogant...just passionate.

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