Deke's Note: In this post, we're introduced to John Wold, an ATU 757 brother from Lift, the para transit arm of our agency. He's campaigning to become Vice President of our local.
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ATU 757 Vice President Candidate
My Name is John Wold, and I am a TriMet Lift Operator for First Transit. First Transit is a contractor that operates the para transit services for TriMet. I am running for the office of Vice President.
I offer a unique background of labor experience spanning more than 30 years both as a union member (Sheet Metal Workers and OEA, the school teachers’ union), and as Labor Relations Manager. As the chief negotiator for management, I have negotiated hundreds of labor agreements and settled hundreds more grievances. Because of this, I understand what management is thinking and why, and what concerns labor.
All the agreements I have negotiated were opened well prior to their expiration, and all but a handful were completed before they expired.
I have a keen appreciation for the collective bargaining process and how it can benefit both sides. For example, as a manager, I happily discovered that most grievances and complaints have a legitimate basis that simply never occurred to the manager involved. When management “lost” the grievance, they didn’t really lose, because it most often resulted better communication and harmony between management and labor. We learned that the best source of information in problem solving came from those closest to the problem. Namely, the worker. We were able to establish labor/management teams that brought about significant process improvements.
I want to be able to help similar things happen with all of ATU 757 agreements. As an operator, and your representative I believe I will be better able to help management understand our side of the story because, as a former manager, I also know their thinking.
2) What do you believe to be the membership’s main concerns (from your office’s perspective) moving forward through 2020? How would you work toward improving these areas?
I have talked with members from many of the properties represented by ATU 757. Many have concerns about:
• the lack of communication, transparency, and responsiveness from our Union;
• safety from assaults on our operators;
• uncertainty about SIPs (Service Improvement Program) affecting their job security;
• the future of healthcare insurance and its financial impact on them;
• the economic impact on retirees;
• There are a number of other worries, also.
The top three officers need to regularly visit all the properties for face-to-face conversations. When we confirm that we understand your concerns, we can work to resolve them. We need to follow up directly and through other means such as social media.
We need to establish better communication between management and ATU 757. We will work to establish Labor/management committees. These have been proven effective to open and communicate the real concerns and dilemmas of our active members and retirees and to develop creative solutions that work for both sides.
3) Assaults are on the rise every year. Do you believe operator barriers are the answer? What are the pros and cons of the barriers? What else could be done to stop this escalating problem?
Initially, operator barriers can minimize the immediate risks. It also might limit positive connection to passengers, but the safety and security of the operator cannot be overlooked.
It is a partial solution. More visible security and enforcement presence will be needed both at known “hot spots” and regularly throughout the system. Once more, labor/management teams can unveil opportunities to stem the escalation of these occurrences.
4) Since we cannot strike, how can we ensure that our union membership concerns will be taken seriously by management? Do you have any creative strategies to ensure constructive dialog and positive actions?
Strikes are not an option for TriMet and other essential services organizations, but even if they were, strikes are not without their own pitfalls. Nevertheless, many other agencies are able to effectively negotiate in spite of it. We need to understand their strategies and adapt them to our circumstances. Open communication with elected government offices, the media, and the public will help make our issues known and addressed.
5) The local media message is controlled by management. How do you propose to engage the media and help the public understand the issues we face?
In my experience, management only controls the media message when labor fails to actively pursue its position. I have always found the media ready to hear what we have to say if we are ready to say it. Being silent is not an option.
6) Social media is a very active and volatile tool within our membership. How will you use it to communicate with US?
Social media is an excellent way to open communication rapidly across a broad front, especially keeping us all informed on the important issues like contract negotiations. It is also important for the information and concerns to flow both directions. Accordingly, I will set up a Vice President’s page to provide direct access to me for all members.
That being said, sitting down face-to-face with people to more fully understand their concerns cannot be replaced electronically. So much communication is non-verbal and cannot be transmitted online.
7) Members are upset with the arbitration process and how the union communicates decisions to the membership. Is this process broken? If so, please state your ideas on how to improve arbitration procedures.
I will use the Vice President’s page mentioned above to communicate arbitration results that would not violate the privacy of the member. With arbitrations, we lose some control of the situation. Therefore, I would rather not go to arbitration unless we are pretty sure we would win.
That said, every member is entitled to a vigorous representation, and you will get it with me.
8) What’s your favorite union movie, and why?
“Norma Rae” starring Sally Fields. The film was inspired by the real-life story of Crystal Lee Sutton who was fired by her employer when she tried to form a bargaining unit where she worked. She was successful with that and went on to become a successful and tough union organizer. Ironically, she died in 2009 at 68 of brain cancer after a protracted fight with her health insurance provider.
9) How do we get more members involved, attending meetings and adding to the overall discussion?
Once again, communication is essential. We will provide advance notice of the agenda for the meetings that include the items that are of general concern to members. Transparency about the union business including financials will encourage the involvement of more members. Perhaps some meetings can be conducted nearer the venue where the concerns originate. We will need the input from members to fully understand and address their issues.
10) I’ve only asked questions on a few points. Please let us know what other issues you believe are vital as we move forward.
We also need to continue pressing our legislators and Congress to deal with the spiraling cost of medical care. Until we nationally get a handle on that, insurance rates will continue their obscene inflation to levels you would not believe, today.