My opinions for Unions have been expressed before. In fact, I have done so on more than one occasion. I have worked in two different workplaces that would be considered a union shop. One of the biggest problems with a union shop is that they are run as a democracy, with the majority making decisions that everyone must abide by. Another big problem is that certain members of the union use power and influence to control what the majority thinks and votes for. This can result in some pretty underhanded dealings.

The most recent union shop is the one that I am about to retire from. The issue that has brought this to light is a recent vote that was taken by the union at my current employer. Let me begin by saying that I am retiring in 5 weeks, and will not be affected by this vote, but that doesn’t mean that I approve of how it was done.

The vote is to change the fire department schedule from a 24 hours on, followed by 48 hours off, to a schedule where firefighters work 48 hours on duty, followed by 96 hours off. This topic has come up for debate every year at contract time, for about the last five years and has not ever been approved. There are a lot of conflicting opinions on this, and I will not debate or air them here. Instead, I want to talk about HOW the vote was done.

There is a core of firefighters that want the schedule to change, and they have been pressing for it for a few years now. An election was recently held for union president, and the new president is in the 48/96 camp. As his first act, he decided to lobby everyone for the schedule change and held a vote, which he said would require a 65% supermajority to implement. Everyone would be able to vote, even employees who would be affected by the change, but were not even union members. Sounds fair, right? I thought so too, but the devil, as they say, is in the details.

The vote was done by secret ballot. Each voter was given a piece of paper and told to write which schedule they preferred. There are 90 firefighters who work for the fire department, and the vote was close to not passing with the required 65%: There were 60 votes for, and 27 against, meaning that the new schedule was approved by one more vote than was required.

There is a catch: At least three votes were not counted. Mine, another firefighter who has said that she is leaving in February, and a firefighter assigned to a 40 hour work week in the front office. The excuse for that is because two of us were quitting, and the third was not going to work that schedule, our votes shouldn’t count. Additionally, there were people who wrote “I don’t care” and another who wrote “I have no opinion until I see details” and both of those were counted as “yes” votes.

Complicating things further, the president, who was the one pushing for the new schedule, was the one who collected and counted the ballots, which he claims to have thrown away after counting them.

This whole issue is like our elections process in miniature.

And before anyone comments here about how unions are evil, stuff it. Corporations are no better: Enron, Citigroup, GM, and many others have proven that people are the problem, not the organizations that they create to gain power.