Union representatives wear a number of hats. Sometimes they are organizers, sometimes they are liaisons between labor and management. As representatives of the union, they are the face of organized labor. While the job of a union representative can be difficult, it is not without its rewards. In addition to the sense of satisfaction from protecting workers' rights, the position can be a stepping stone to higher union office.
One of the union representative's main responsibilities is organizing. This requires outstanding communication skills. Union representatives involved in organizing must be able to listen to workers and see what their grievances are. These grievances must then be translated into a plan of action to unionize the workplace. Organizers do not do all of the organizing themselves. Often, this takes place under the auspices of an organizing committee of the workers themselves. However, union representatives do motivate workers, provide advice for how to lead the fight for unionization and get the workers ready for their National Labor Relations Board election. The work in this field is very difficult, as employers often spend lots of money to keep unions out.
The union representative acts as a go-between, passing communication from the rank-and-file members to their elected leaders. Union representatives identify members on the shop floor who would be welcome additions to a union's political action committee or other community-organizing wings of the union. Representatives communicate political issues to workers, trying to get them involved in the political process. Conversely, the representative acts as the public face of the union in coalitions and community groups that the union is involved in. Similarly, union representatives lobby elected officials at all levels of government with the political concerns of the union and its members.
Union representatives should check in on workplaces periodically, and at different times of the day. This ensures that they see how the shop working during all shifts in a work day. Representatives should know the contract inside and out so they can communicate rights to the workers they represent. Representatives should also be well-versed in the contract to be ready to present grievances that violate the contract to management.
Union representatives organize worker activity during strikes, encouraging workers to come out to picket lines. They must work to get members from other shops involved, as well as build community awareness of the strike. Finally, union representatives organize pressure campaigns (such as boycotts and petitions) against employers to get them to agree to worker demands.
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