Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lessons Learned on the Way to the Top - A Q&A with Rebecca Smith Author of Union Hypocrisy

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is the author of the political Union Hypocrisy. Writing Daze caught up with Rebecca recently and asked her some questions On Writing and Self-Publishing. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by her answers. 

About Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith had been a member of the Teamsters Union for 16 years.  Her final three years with the Teamsters was as the Director of their Training Program in Nevada.  She has always had a love for books and a desire to be a writer.  After attempting to write several fiction books that never would see the light of day, she finally decided to write about what she knows best – labor unions. 
Her next book will be based on the true events that occurred when Chicago met head on with what some would say is the most dysfunctional Teamster Local in the country. 
UNION HYPOCRISY will be available on Amazon.com as an e-book or can be ordered in hardcopy.

About Union Hypocrisy

Union Hypocrisy
Union Hypocrisy looks at multiple facets of Unions in today’s world.  It explores how unions’ react to their own staff trying to form a union in Book One.  In Book Two the book looks at a variety of circumstances where different unions go against what would be best for their membership.  Books Three and Four touch on the unions’ history and their interaction with the political parties as well as what happened to bring the unions from the day of George Meaney, the avid anti-communist AFL-CIO leader of the fifties to Richard Trumka, the current president, whose selection was praised by the Communist Party of the United States.  It also introduces those who promote themselves in public as working class defenders, but lacks such commitment behind closed doors.

Book Excerpt
If the UNION'S are NOBLE in their Campaign Cause and unionization really is the best choice, what possibly could I or anyone else do to override their proclaimed status?

April 2008
The corporation distributed the following documents to its employees in their sales division offices across the United States. These documents were given to employees regardless of their seniority or sales experience. Without the benefit of negotiations or a contractual bargaining agreement, they were being informed for the first time that they could be terminated at will. The salespeople were now to be considered temporary field employees.
The forms that came out closely resembled the following:
1. Affirmation Page. "By my signature below, I acknowledge that I have read the Corporation's Code of Conduct ("Code"), and that I understand my responsibilities written within the Code. I understand that the Code has been issued for informational purposes only and that it is not intended to create, nor does it represent, a contract of employment for any definite period of time." Note: Failure to read and/or sign this Affirmation will in no way relieve you of your responsibilities under the Code.
2. Candidate Release Authorization. This authorization gives the corporation written permission to obtain virtually all the salesperson's personal records, including, but not limited to, Workers Compensation Claims, statements about personal character, mode of living, court records, education, consumer credit history, driving record, past employment references, past employment reasons for termination, and much more.
3. Temporary Field Employee Handbook Acknowledgment Form. "I acknowledge that I have received, read, and understand the policies outlined in the Corporation's Temporary Field Employee Handbook, which is intended as a guide to policies and procedures. I understand that the Corporation has the right to change the Handbook without notice. It is understood that future changes in the policies and procedures will supersede or eliminate those found in the book, and that employees will be notified of such changes through normal communication channels. The Handbook was prepared to acquaint all temporary employees of the Corporation with its core employment policies and ethical standards of conduct.
"I also understand and agree that the information contained in these materials does not constitute an employment contract between the Corporation and me, and that either the Corporation or I may terminate our employment relationship at any time, with or without cause. I understand that no manager or representative of the Corporation, other than the CEO, the CFO, or their designees, has any authority to enter into any agreement for employment for any specified period of time, or to make any agreement contrary to the foregoing."
4. A Letter from the Director of the Human Resources Department of the Corporation. In the letter the HR director instructs the salespeople that the corporation has developed a new employment handbook setting out the employment policies and procedures that cover the corporation's salespeople. The employees are also informed that, in the future, they will be referred to as "Temporary Field Employees." Some instructions similar to the following are included in the letter:
           Employees are instructed that they will be required to "remain in compliance with its requirements."
           Employees will be required to divulge personal information, including the Social Security numbers of spouses and children.
All of this information, the letter reassures the reader, is for informational purposes only. (What else would it be for?)
5. Medical Information Form. This form requires the employee to provide the corporation with the name, address, Social Security number, gender, and marital status of their spouse and children. The following note is at the bottom of the page: "This information is requested for informational purposes only and will not be used to make decisions with respect to your temporary employment status.
6. Memorandum.
TO: Sales Campaign Coordinators
FROM: Operations Manager
DATE: September 17, 2008
RE: Employment Paper Work
This memorandum instructs the field employees to return all the required forms as a "part of the conditions of employment." The operations manager also acknowledges that many have not yet returned the forms, despite the department making follow-up calls and mailing letters to them in attempts to get them to sign.
7. Release Form for Consumer Reports Temporary Field Employees. This form gives the corporation permission to search additional sources for personal information about their employees in the sale department.

This corporation provided its employees with a stark example of corporate invasion of privacy. The vast majority of the employees in the sales department did not sign the forms. Instead, they discussed and rallied toward organizing into a recognized bargaining unit. A union.

As the employees talked among themselves and other employees, they found that they were not the only department affected by this new handbook it also applied to staff working in the political relations department. The corporation had brought in outside consultants and concocted these new employee standards, which made unilateral changes to the terms of employment for just about all corporate staffers. Corporate counsel and his wrecking crew would make more changes without bothering to negotiate them with employees. Some of the employees saw the warning signs of bad things to come when the corporate counsel fired the head of HR and replaced her with someone coming from outside the corporation—not in-house, as had been the tradition for over a hundred years. Maybe he could not find a qualified in-house applicant to fill the position. Some felt that their closely knit "family" was being corporatized. However, maybe they just never realized that had been a corporation for many years now.
Out of all the staff affected, it was the brash and bold members of the sales department who really created a scene—because most of the salespeople were passionate about their jobs, which is what made them good. Originally, the department had two types of salespeople: those who were considered permanent full-time employees and those who were hired to work on a particular project—hence the term project salesperson. The project salespeople were hired for six months, which could be extended at six-month intervals. Over time, that became three-month terms with three-month extensions.
With the new handbook, it was down to thirty days, with the option of a thirty-day extension.
This corporation was quite wily when it came to reducing their exposure to employing permanent employees, thus limiting their exposure to unionization and allowing them reprieve from many of those annoying National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules. To further limit the potential for unionizing, project sales people were actually hired by subsidiaries and then "lent" to the Corporation. The Corporation would then reimburse the subsidiary for the cost of their wages. However, the health and welfare benefits would be covered by the subsidiary.

Now, with the mailing of handbooks to all project sale people, they will be classified as "temporary field employees" who are AT-WILL, giving the Corporation a means to terminate those employees without cause.
The staff sales people are official sales personnel of the Corporation because they receive their payroll check directly from the Corporation and fall under Medical & Pension Plans that the Corporation has in at its corporate headquarters.

Project sales people receive all work assignments from the Corporation. They are accountable to the Corporation and the Corporation pays for all expenses while the project salespeople are on the ground working. Expense reports get turned in to the Corporation. Monthly activity reports are turned in to the Corporation. A daily debrief sheet and weekly reports went to the corporation. The corporation provided the cell phones.

All salespeople, whether project or staff, performed the same work out in the field on any given day, in any targeted industry, anywhere in the USA, in both public and private sectors.
It seemed that the corporation had a complete grasp of the legal definition of subcontracting. Since the employees came from a multitude of subsidiaries from around the country, the corporation could, of course, claim that they did not employ them; after all, they never cut a payroll check to any of the project salespeople. These people all worked for separate, subordinate bodies.
Out of anger and rage against this abuse of their employment, salespeople could be heard voicing sentiments such as the "employee handbook"—as they called it—"is a piece of s**t!"
Ever since I started working for this b.s. corporation, I realized I had walked into a monument to corporate greed! I was tired of the empty promises, and sick of all the smoke being blown up my ass! My dream job was nothing but a horrible nightmare: no money, no respect, and no appreciation. To top it off, the people in charge had never worked in this industry! Are you kidding me? I was just a little upset with these conditions, as you can tell. We needed a contract! I refused to be considered an "at-will employee." I had never dreamed this would happen. I was ready to stand with my coworkers to form a union! Join me and others that know we need this. Stand up and be heard!
The corporation was another Wal-Mart.
"Temporary field employees" were "at-will" employees. Approximately 71 percent of the salespeople refused to sign their rights away. Therefore, the corporation began calling the project salespeople in attempts to coerce them into signing their rights away. That did not work. So then they asked the site lead salespeople to ask the people working on their team to sign the paperwork. When that did not work, sales campaign coordinators, who are management, were asked to get them to sign the paperwork. One-on-one meetings took place, and management made it clear: sign the paperwork or face termination.
On November 6, 2008, the corporation started firing.

Corporate greed and abuse was alive and well, finding loopholes in labor law. They were abusing their employees and giving them no voice at all in the terms of employment. Anti-union corporate America.
Which corporation "stuck it" to their employees? Which corporation insisted on at-will employment for their employees? Surely, this is an example of why employees need union representation. A union would insist on just cause; a union would force the corporation to respect its workers and give them job security. Was it Federal Express or maybe Wal-Mart? No. A corporation more anti-union than that perhaps?
Go back and replace the words corporation with International Brotherhood of Teamsters, subsidiary with union local, and salesperson with organizer.
What is good for corporate America is obviously not good for the international unions. And there are other unions just as guilty, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
In 2008, the Teamsters had been able to stamp down this dangerous union talk among its employees, but as of 2012, it was back again. On February 9, 2012, thirty-nine staff organizers filed a petition with the NLRB in Chicago, 8-RC-73341, for recognition under Teamsters Local 964. On March 19, 2012, the Federation for Agents and International Representatives (FAIR) filed a petition to also represent the same organizers.

In many ways, the unions have become hypocrites about their own mantra, and we will explore many cases in this book. Trade unionism (unions consisting of those who work in a trade or craft such as pipefitters or masons) has given way to political ideologue, and unions are just as guilty, if not more so, of making a buck on the backs of the working class. After all, corporate America has never hidden its agenda of being in it for the money, whereas unions promote the cause while marching to a different tune behind closed doors. There is no better example of how an organization can remain union-free than the unions themselves. The ultimate hypocrisy.

On Writing:

Q:  What motivated you to write the book? 

I had read and heard many comments and theories on unions by people who had never been in a union.  I thought that should change.  I just wanted to give people a look at what really happens and if it is reported at all, is reported in some obscure place that most people never see it.

Q:  What is the single most useful thing you have learned and how has it helped you as a writer?

Wow single thing.  That is hard since I have learned so much.  I would say that the most useful thing I have learned is that writing the book is the easy part, getting it out to the public is very challenging.

Q:  What would you say are your main literary influences?  

Oh I love to read.  So I would say that I have a strange mix of real influences in style and humor.  Harper Lee is my all-time favorite.  I could read To Kill a Mockingbird over and over.  As for nonfiction it would be Ann Coulter.   She has a sharp wit and I like the dry delivery.  It never fails to engage my mind.

On Self-Publishing:

Q:  What are the biggest challenges you have faced with self-publishing?  

Getting my book into the public eye.  Many places won’t deal with you if you are self-published.  It is very hard to reach an audience.

Q:  What surprised you about the self-publishing process?  

How much help there is to get you thru the process.  The process is easy and you are guided thru it step by step.  I am thrilled with the book cover design and how I felt confident in my Createspace Partners.

Q:  Right now there is a stigma attached to self-published authors, that just because you can pay for the book to be published doesn’t mean you are a qualified author. Do you think self-publishing will ever become a respected industry?  

Wow, I hope so or I might be out of luck in my pursuit of a writing career!  LOL.  Yes I think it will.  I have read so many books in my life.  Some were really great!  Some though were really bad.   I mean so bad I felt that the publisher should refund my money bad.  But they were all thru major publishing houses.  So while having the money to publish your own book doesn’t make you an author, guess what – neither does being published by a major publisher.  I think the evolution of self-publishing has been a boon for readers as they now can discover a variety of writers with styles they will enjoy.  What I would really like to see is more accessibility to economical publicity.  Ads are very expensive even on the internet. 

Q:  What is your advice to authors who decide to self-publish?  

The easy part is writing it.  Find a good editor.  Their insight is invaluable.  And when you think your finished…you have just started. 

Thanks Rebecca for stopping
It was my pleasure, thank you.

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