Donna Hammond is the business manager for the electricians union, IBEW (the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.) She represents workers in Washington at the City of Portland, Multnomah County, the Portland School District, as well as at television stations, KGW and KATU, radio station KQAC and union central itself, the AFL-CIO. Hammond talked to Lisa Loving about why she loves unions.
TSN: What kinds of workers does your union represent?
DH: The IBEW represents inside construction electricians, low-voltage electricians, residential electricians, AFL-CIO members and organizers, broadcast engineers and material handlers.
TSN: What are the benefits of a union job?
DH: A few of the benefits of a union job are: Wages, Hours, Working Conditions, and Job Security
The union is responsible for negotiating the wages for employees and establishing step increases for different classifications. The union also negotiates the employees start and stop hours and when overtime will be paid. The union supports safe working conditions, and at IBEW we have a drug-free workplace policy in our contract which requires pre-employment testing along with random testing.
The security that comes along with being a union member is knowing that there's someone in place who will assist you in discussion and working through workplace issues. If an union member is called into a discussion by their supervisor and the union member believes that the results of the discussion could lead to discipline or other adverse consequences, the union member has the right to request union representation at the investigatory interview.
TSN: How does a young person begin to think about getting a job covered by your union?
DH: I am a beneficiary of working class parents who were union. I was blessed to have been raised by two parents who were also active union members. Just about everyone I knew was a union member…teachers, construction workers, butchers, bus drivers, machinists, mechanics, laborers. And, because of their union membership and benefits, their wages were significantly more than the non-union counterparts. And, their quality of life was different.
When I was seventeen, I remember sharing with a friend about job selection on day when we were on the bus. He had two job offers and wanted to know which one he should select, one was union and the other was not. The other consideration for him was a difference in pay…the union job had a lower starting salary than the non union job. I remember sharing with him that even though the union job had a lower starting salary, he should select the union job because of the security and the scheduled pay increases. I ran into him again about two years later and he looked broke down as he told me he regretted not taking the union position. The non-union job looked more attractive but it did not last long.
Another story: my niece was just offered two positions in Denver, Co. She called and asked for employment advice. She said that the non-union position paid more money and that she would have to pay union dues with the other position. I reminded her of her union upbringing that she had forgotten. She had walked on picket lines, carried picket signs, advocated Jobs for Justice, walked door to door… and had been the voice to workers who did not have a voice to their management. And that the union dues that she would be required to pay for membership were a small price to pay for job security, secure wages and benefits, and union representation. She responded… I knew that, I was just testing you Auntie Donna.
TSN: What is the most important thing to know about union jobs and the role unions play in the workplace?
DH: It's important that young people know and remember who brought them the eight-hour workday, the weekend, paid vacations, health-care benefits, and pensions.
Employers did not wake up one morning and say, "the workers need"…NO! These are the benefits that workers receive because of unions.
Unions also dictate working conditions for all workers. When union market share declines, conditions decline for all workers. When unions were forming, they would negotiate a contract at one factory or mill. Then the factory on the other side of town would provided the same benefits to their workers –even without a union.
They did it to keep the union out. But, the workers benefitted because of the union at the other workplace.
Unions are still needed. Without unions, workers could kiss their _ _ _ goodbye.