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Does your union answer the phone?

Our Head of First Impressions is out of the office, so the phone line has been ringing to other staff.  I haven’t answered the main phone line in a few months now and I was reminded how often we get calls from people all over the country looking for their union. I don’t mean looking for help with their union, I mean trying to call their union, but without any way of getting in touch with them.  They have no contact information for their union and simply searched Google looking for a phone number.

Wednesday, we got two calls that were not from public sector workers that really stuck with me.  The 2018 Janus v AFSCME decision only applies to public sector workers and these two women worked at private nursing homes and were members of SEIU.  That was all they knew.  They didn’t know their local, their local president or even a number to contact someone that could help.

Of course, I wish I could help. Both were terminated recently and felt that the union representation at their termination meeting was horrible.  They were trying to get ahold of their union to see if there was anything they could do to get them their job back.  This is what they thought they had been paying dues for all these years.

Imagine paying money every month to a union that is supposed to represent you and then when you need them, you’re not even sure how to contact them. It would be like having car insurance but when you get in an accident, they don’t answer the phone and you’re left stranded with a broken car.  We hear from lots of public sector workers that have left their union because their unions refused to represent them when they needed it most.  For public sector workers, they can choose not to pay these unions that aren’t doing their job, but the private sector workers are stuck. 

When I see all the new workers that are unionizing, I often wonder if those workers will have a good union that answers the phone when they call or if the workers voting to join a union realize how hard it is to remove the union if it isn’t working.

A good friend of my mine, and professor at a public university, often says that unions need to just get back to the “bread and butter” of their mission, representing the workers in the union, instead of getting involved in politics and social issues.  I hope the two women that called this week are able to get help or a new job soon and I hope their next job treats them with the respect they deserve. 

Brigette Herbst

Brigette Herbst is the Senior Organizing Director of Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2018, Brigette’s career included working in the public sector for New York State, teaching elementary school, coaching high school sports, and working as a municipal county employee. This unique experience offers Brigette an inside perspective on public employee culture in New York. She focuses on educating New Yorkers about their constitutional rights with regard to union membership and promoting fair treatment of workers. Brigette has her bachelor’s degree in history and politics and her master’s degree in elementary education. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and planning trips for her family.