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Friday, October 09, 2009

"...through a glass darkly..." - A Cautionary Tale

Previously, I was First Vice President of the Indiana State Employees Association (ISEA).
Up until that time, ISEA had been a very effective and independent state employee advocate, and had made great strides in gaining Raises, Leave, and Health Care Benefits; plus the elimination of the 2% Club (where employees were forced to make payroll deduction "contributions" to the political party in power).
Our Legal Team representing individual ISEA members in the workplace was top notch.
We were very active in one-on-one meetings at the local level with State Legislators, and were a real political player, especially when you consider that our membership was only around ten percent (10%) of all state employees.
It was about that time that we received affiliation overtures from AFSCME, AFT, UAW, CWA, IBEW, SEIU, NEA and others.
In the beginning, ISEA Board of Directors resisted these suitors, but, as time went on and we were all taken on wine-and-dine trips to Washington D.C. and other places, more and more of the Board members were won over (or bought out).
We decided to narrow it down and thoroughly investigate the choices between the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and staying independent.
AFT effectively sweet-talked almost the entire ISEA Board of Directors, basically on the promise from AFT that we would maintain our "autonomy" and be given major additional resources.
The ISEA President and I were the only two that realized that these promises were a travesty, and that, as soon as you turn over your membership list to an outside entity, your "autonomy" is gone.
At the ISEA annual convention where the AFT affiliation was to be voted on by our membership, rumor and smear campaigns were started against the President and myself. We ended up resigning from office, and the AFT lackeys took over ISEA.
Then the Indiana Governor forced a sweetheart "collective begging" system on us, which only allowed us to ratify being screwed by the Administration.
The International Unions were fat and happy with this arrangement, because they had their little "exclusive bargaining" units.
Nevermind little details like lobbying the Legislature or pursuing "real" collective bargaining.
Thereafter, there was year after year of wage freezes or 1-2% of tiny cost of living raises, and a total end to "merit" (longevity) raises, along with reductions in other benefits and staffing.
All of this was dutifully ratified by the "unions".
These same Unions also abandoned efforts to gain more meaningful collective bargaining through the Legislature .... something that might have actually given us some permanent rights ... in a time in history where they might have actually been able to accomplish this.
In conclusion, I list the following "truths" (according to me):

1.If you affiliate with an International Union, there's no such thing as independence or autonomy.
2.The International Unions are more interested in whatever benefits THEM, not YOU.
3.No matter which way you go, you can only rely on YOURSELVES to do the real work.
4.No matter how much money an International Union promises, this will soon end after you affiliate.
5.Collective Bargaining (without meaningful employee rights) isn't.

Roger McNeill in Indiana

P.S.: After ISEA's affiliation, the Indiana State Employees' Appeal Commission (SEAC) was abolished, and our state employees lost access to an employee complaint procedure. We now are considered "Employees at Will" and have no job protection.


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