Brothers and sisters:
Not that long ago, I was asked by another tradesmen what I disliked about my union. The question took me aback because he is a proud union member and stepped up when called upon by his local to do various things needed to further the movement.
I started by enumerating all the things the International does for us: the pension, annuity, 401K, NEIEP, Work Preservation and finally health and welfare. Then I spoke about the changes made at the International in the past couple of years and how it seemed like there was a fresh direction for the trade. I concluded that there was not very much to be dissatisfied with.
Then he pressed me. “Come on. It can’t all be sunshine, rainbows and unicorns? What is it you dislike?”
After thinking for a few moments I blurted out apathy. “Too many members take for granted what we have and are willing to take the benefits without helping to keep them.”
He lamented the same with his trade and said that all too often initiation night is the last time you see many of the members. Years ago I asked one of our current retirees why he never attended a meeting. He said “I don’t have to. I read the Constructor and the Citizen and they keep me up to date.” A time later his name came up for a gold card and it was voted down. When I asked some of the members why they voted no, the responses ranged from he was never at a meeting to he didn’t step forward to help anyone and, the most damning, nobody knew who he was.
What you read in the Constructor and the Labor Citizen is only a fraction of what goes on in the meetings. I am limited to 650 words in each publication. Sometimes it is impossible to capture what happens in that space.
In Local 17 we have a solid core of officers who work very hard to keep our local running. We also have a solid core of gold card retirees we can count on to attend the meetings and let their opinions be known. I am also proud to say that of our seven newest initiates, six are regular attendees and are actively taking part in local activities. What is missing are those between the initiates and the retirees.
There are many mechanics who patiently take the time to teach their apprentices the trade, support others by giving insight to a problem, run large and small jobs in a way that makes the company money and coming to work fun. These are who we reference and hold up as examples of good Elevator Men. These are also the men who need to be an even better example by their active participation in the local.
The member I spoke of did teach the trade to his helpers. He never ran a big job but, he made the company money on his smaller jobs. He was a good mechanic and his jobs ran well when they were completed. By this measure he was a good elevator man. On the other side, he never attended meetings, even the mandatory ones. Never took an interest in the union beyond what he was getting in the check. Never thought about getting involved and never really knew what was going on. Now he takes advantage of the pension, health and welfare benefits, all of which he earned for his time in the business even though he was not a good union man.
He did have a lot to offer the local in the way of leadership. Unfortunately his legacy will pass and his name will be forgotten.
It does not have to end like that.
Until next month…
Work smart, work safe and slow down for safety.