Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wearing Union Label Doesn't Always Count with Union Employers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wearing Union Label Doesn't Always Count with Union Employers

Article excerpt

What happens when a labor union doesn't do right by its own workers, or at least those employees perceive that they're being mistreated?

To their dismay, a couple of America's biggest, strongest and most venerable unions are finding out.

A union's focus, understandably, tends to be on its members - who pay dues, after all - but some unions are learning that their office staffers have their own expectations.

A few months ago, 200 staffers at the headquarters in Washington of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters threatened to walk out of the union's "Marble Palace," contending the 1.4-million-strong behemoth was mistreating them.

The employees - clerical, technical and mid-level managers - are represented by Local 2 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union. The issues were money, job security and seniority, with staffers calling for the same type of job security Teamster members enjoyed. They asked Teamsters President Ron Carey to extend his doctrines of fairness and reform on behalf of Teamsters truck drivers to the union employees helping him carry out that agenda.

Shortly after the internal labor struggle there was publicly aired, the Teamsters, with perhaps some public relations chagrin, settled.

The New York-based OPEIU - a relatively young and small union - represents staffers at unions around the country, as well as employees of other offices. Founded 50 years ago, it has 140,000 members.

Now, another OPEIU local is taking on a major union, this time the United Auto Workers, and holding its own. Local 494 in Detroit represents the UAW's 400 office staffers, half at Solidarity House in Detroit, half at regional branches including St. Louis.

While the 700,000-member UAW defends the rights of auto workers around the country, the clerical, maintenance and repair workers helping the UAW with that mission felt they were being treated shoddily. They cited what they called the UAW's effort to introduce random skills testing, weaken job security and and reduce job postings. The issue of seniority rights especially grated on workers, with union spokeswoman Kathie O'Kray calling it "something the UAW has always fought for in all its plants. …

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