Re. Unionize?

Subject: Re. Unionize?
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Mon, 10 Jul 1995 08:54:07 LCL

The biggest single problem that I have with _mature_ unions (those
that have been around a while) is that the folks who end up at the top
tend to be more politically active than empathetic to real workers in
real working conditions. They're also the ones who collect full salary
while you collect strike pay, and thus have no incentive not to call a
strike. Most of these folks are more interested in demonstrating that
they can make large numbers of members jump when they say so; they
tend to be far less interested in actually serving the members. (I say
this a veteran of membership in two unions... on the other hand, the
middle management of unions, typically those too politically inept or
too damn nice to claw their way to the top over the corpses of their
colleagues, are good joes and janes.)

More seriously, what would be the point of unionizing? Let's say I had
a dispute with my employer. Would the rest of you go on strike to
force your bosses to lean on my bosses? I certainly hope not. Would
FERIC really care if Northern Telecom, IBM and others tried to lean on
us? Not bloody likely. More to the point, tech. writers are generally
well paid and well treated in comparison with, say, assembly-line
workers, so it's hard to see any advantage to unionizing in this

The real advantages of a union to "people like us" (love that phrase!)
include networking, professional education, discounted insurance,
public education (lobbying?) and so on. We do that quite nicely
already via STC, CBE, IEEE, AMWA etc. (Oops... Society for Technical
Communication, Council of Biology Editors, Inst. of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers, American Medical Writers Assoc., and so on...
for the acronymically impaired!)

The best defence against layoffs is keeping a high profile so that
everyone (particularly the high-ups) _know_ how valuable you are to
the company. That, and developing a network of contacts outside work
to provide contract/freelance funding if your industry must downsize;
constantly developing new skills gives you an edge here. (In fact,
it's always wise to have a second employable skill ready to polish up
in case the first one suddenly isn't in demand.) If you're in an
industry prone to downsizing, keep at least two months salary in
liquid form somewhere to get you through the initial drop in income.
And don't bring your expertise back to that company if you can find
work elsewhere... they don't deserve you.

A final word to the wise: It appears that we're heading for the
downturn part of the recession/boom cycle of life, so keep your wits
about you. Find out what your employer did to its tech.writing staff
during the last recession and plan accordingly. Big hint: If there's
_no one_ there with more than 5 years of experience, start preparing
_now_! Try to pick up some freelance contracts now and then, attend
meetings of your local STC (or other association) chapter, offer to
lecture at a university (one class or a whole course). Don't
necessarily jump ship at the first signs of water in the bilges, but
do keep an eye on the life preservers and life rafts... there will be
sharks in the water shortly after the ship goes down. (To continue
someone's extended life raft metaphor.)

--Geoff Hart #8^{)} <--- Blow the man down!
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of
our reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.

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