My Life As A Union Rep.
I’ve been a union member most of my working life.
In the early ‘70s I took a job compering at a restaurant-cabaret in a Brisbane hotel. It paid $25 a night. Four hours work on top of my weekly work as a radio announcer, for which I was paid $75.
I didn’t much like cabaret, but I had a mortgage to think of.
As I arrived for my first gig, I was met by the hotel manager and a man who introduced himself as “from the Union.” He did not ask me to join. He told me to join.
“Why?” I asked reasonably.
“If you don’t, I’ll pull out all the musos.”
I felt this was coercion and said so.
“Listen here,” I said. “I worked in country radio for years (three, actually) on a base wage less than a bank clerk, with no overtime, no allowances for shift work, nothing extra for weekends. Where was the union then?”
This had no effect on him. I tried another tack.
“If you had come to me and said you wanted to help me get wage justice for radio announcers, I’d have signed up immediately. But I am not going to sign up just because you force me to.”
I didn’t work that night.
The next week I sat in the hotel manager’s office while he called everyone he knew in Trades Hall. He even called the Labor Lord Mayor, Clem Jones, and gave him an earful about union strong-arm tactics.
On Friday, the night before my second gig, I joined the union. The next Monday, I told the hotel manager I didn’t want the job any more. I felt as if I had sold off a major slice of personal integrity.
Now I was a fully paid up member of Actor’s and Announcer’s Equity. I could work on any major motion picture without fear of the techies going out on strike.
There was only one way to rediscover my lost integrity. I nominated for, and was elected to the Brisbane organising committee of my union.
I would reform the Union movement from within!
During the next few years, the union, which we just called Equity, developed a log of claims to serve on radio stations.
It was an ambit claim. This is the way it works. The union asks for the world; the employer offers next to nothing in response.
Because the old system could not move until there was a dispute. So, unions got into the habit of making ridiculous claims that were designed to be rejected. Thus creating a dispute.
Next the union and the employers went to court and argued out a settlement which, in the old days, became an award.
After a year or so, announcers at last had a fair award. Base salary levels were still much the same as bank clerks, but there were proper arrangements for weekend and midnight-to-dawn work.
By this time, of course, I had negotiated a private deal with my own employer which was better than the new award. Nevertheless, I felt we had done something for the weak and sinned-against.
The Bible and Salary Justice.
Jesus does not expect anyone to work for nothing.
When Jesus sent out his 70 messengers, he said:
Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. (Luke 10:7)
However, Jesus does put different responsibilities on the one who pays, and the one who is paid.
Jesus implies that salary justice is the responsibility of the employer. It is the one who owns the house who provides the food and drink. The owner must ensure that what is provided is fair and just.
Jesus’ challenge to the labourer is to accept whatever they provide. He says we are to eat what is set before you (Luke 10:8).
The Value of Unions.
This is all very well, as long as employers act justly.
But do they? No.
Unions exist to compensate for the sinfulness of employers. Too many employers exploit workers. Too many see them as mere factors of production to be hired and used up like raw material.
This is not the way of the Kingdom of God. Nor should it be the way for Christian organisations.
The World Vision Way.
We Value People. It is a core value of our organisation.
We must express this belief in setting rewards for staff.
Salary justice is a barometer of how well we are valuing people.
For some years now, we have expressed salary justice by a process of job grading. This is an objective process that tries to ensure that people doing equivalent work within the organisation are rewarded similarly. There is internal equity.
Similarly, we relate our salaries to equivalent jobs in the market place.
Our staff conditions have been developed over the years through constant discussions between management and staff. The work we shall do on gender issues will undoubtedly modify these more. The process of change has been, and must continue to be, highly interactive and participative.
Not top down. Not externally imposed. But everybody having the opportunity to contribute and shape a working environment that is fair and just.
And, in World Vision, just means a number of things:
1. It must represent justice for workers;
2. It must represent justice for our donors;
3. It must represent justice for the poor.
We, the workers within World Vision, are the ones most able to determine what represents justice for all.