Justice for Healthcare Workers
Union will make for a better EMMC4/14/2006
Bangor Daily News Op Ed by Kendal Dunbar, President IAM Local 1821
The International Association of Machinists’ (IAM) mission is an organization of, by and for workers. Our mission is to support and create good jobs with dignity, a voice at work and a strong safety net for all workers.
I’ve been a dues-paying member of the IAM union for 35 years, while working at the Bucksport mill. The IAM has been very active in Eastern Maine, doing extensive work for laid off workers, fair trade policies, a strong social security, and a real social safety net.
In the IAM, we pride ourselves on democracy and autonomy. In fact all our officers, including our business representatives, are elected.
Recently, as our programs in the community have steadily increased, more and more workers have contacted us to help them build their own local union. About a year and a half ago, workers at EMMC asked us to help them form their own union so they could get democracy and a voice on the job (the nurses are already unionized). I am glad that my union dues are supporting the workers at EMMC as a second union at EMMC would make it even better.
In a recent Bangor Daily News op-ed (4/15/06), Phil Demers, attacked the IAM saying it “fabricates untruths”, doesn’t have “one speck of concern for the ‘working folks’”, is using EMMC employees to “deepen their pockets” and helped bankrupt the airline companies.
As a dues-paying member of the IAM, who has witnessed first hand what good my union does, I was appalled by Mr. Demers’ unsubstantiated, biased, and at times flat out untrue attack. This person seems to really hate the IAM. To my knowledge, Mr. Demers has not come to a single IAM union meeting, nor done anything to find out what our union actual does. Anyone can find all sorts of self-fulfilling information on the web- especially about a union with 700,000 members. I wouldn’t be surprised that some in management so dislike unions, but why a worker (especially one who is only per diem)?
I do agree with Mr. Demer’s assumption that a union must be held accountable, especially in an industry whose “work” is the care of patients. In fact, unions are far more transparent than any other type of organization or corporation.
Mr. Demers cynically reduces everything to money. Fine. We pay monthly dues, which are two times the average hourly pay at the mill. About 60 percent of our dues go to our district and the national union. This money is used to pay staff and to provide support for negotiations, grievances, arbitrations, trainings and other support that is good for workers. Over a third of our dues stay with our local union here in Bucksport and we spend that money on trainings and to support other efforts like Food AND Medicine, which are good for all workers. The IAM has joined with other unions at the Bucksport Mill to raise well over $60,000 in charitable donations from members for laid off workers throughout this region. Through our union, and the union is us, we decided to do these programs.
Our union is about much more than money. It’s about democracy - talking with your co-workers, finding solutions, electing representatives and negotiating with management. It’s about being an adult and participating in decisions that affect our workplace. We find it child-like to give blind faith to management (or anyone else for that matter) to support our interests. We don’t believe in either the “nanny-state” or the “nanny-corporation”.
Mr. Demers claims he has no problem talking about union issues, but that is not a problem when you are married to management, which Mr. Demers is, and when your talk supports management.
Without a union, you don’t get the same communication. It tends to be top-down. With a union, a worker has the chance to question things and give input.
At Bucksport, the company said we were losing money. As a union, we had the right to look at the books and after examining them, we found out that the company was in fact having financial problems. So, we worked with management. We put off pay increases, worked with less people and gave up other benefits. Our union gave us the freedom and power to negotiate with management as equals.
Our interests are in keeping good jobs here in Bucksport- we don’t travel from plant to plant like management does. In fact, you won’t find many managers with 35 years seniority, where there are plenty of workers with that kind of investment in the plant.
We aren’t the servants to management; through our union, we become owners of both the mill and our labor.
And that is why I believe a union will make for a better hospital. EMMC is a huge, wealthy, critically important institution. There are many competing interests within it, yet all strive toward outstanding patient care. For good communication and for true ownership, there simply is no substitute for workplace democracy, which only happens with a union. Democracy, not dictatorship, no matter how benevolent, works best. For these and many other reasons, I’m happy to pay my dues to help others share in the benefits of workplace democracy- especially at EMMC, an institution that must constantly make itself even better.
Kendal Dunbar, works at Bucksport Mill and is president of IAM Local 1821.