Thinking of unionizing your workplace? Here are tips from UNITE HERE’s Nia Winston. | Local News | Detroit
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More than 20 years ago, Nia Winston said she hit what she called “rock bottom” while working at a Detroit casino.
She was a 25 year old single mom who worked $ 10 an hour and felt like she was out of control of her life.
She is now general vice president of UNITE HERE, a US and Canadian union that represents approximately 300,000 hospitality workers in the hotel, restaurant, laundry and casino industries, and president of UNITE HERE Local 24, which represents workers in Michigan, Ohio. Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Winston ponders the time when union action hit her workplace years ago. “I thought of all the times I was at work and all the times my employer just used me,” she told the Metro Times. “I thought of all the times when it was one-sided, when I might want to get up early to take care of my son with asthma, and I didn’t even know about the Family and Sick Leave Act. … So I started thinking about all of these things. I said, ‘Wait here a minute. I didn’t have a say, so it’s not just their rules, but rules that we work out together – a collective agreement. ‘I said, “Wow, that’s it.”
We asked Winston for tips on organizing the workplace.
Talk to your employees
The first step is to get to know your employees by speaking to them. This is a great way to learn about common ailments.
“Sometimes you might want a certain thing or something that you think is unjust in the workplace, and it can work well for others because the jobs are so diverse,” she says. “And so you have to listen, you have to be patient and reach an agreement with your employees that our voices are more powerful through a union. All of these things that we can individually seek when we have a union, we have the power and a voice to change that. ”
That can start with just sharing your personal experiences. “You’d be surprised if you talked about your personal experiences and your experiences,” says Winston. “People just don’t share this that often because they may not know anyone. You’d be surprised how the next person next to you at your next location or station says, “Oh my god, I went through that too.” These common experiences or challenges in life, when people start talking about them and sharing them, they get things in common and then look for solutions. Also, if you cherish this, if you keep it to yourself and don’t talk about it, you can sometimes feel like you are alone and that nothing you are going through has a solution. ”
Meet around the clock
Sometimes employees can be physically isolated from one another, making it difficult to chat. Winston says the dining room is a great way to interact with colleagues, but it’s not always possible either. Reaching out to them outside of work can be critical; For example, having drinks after work or connecting with them on social media. “You know, social media – it could be a gift and the curse,” says Winston. “It has given us the opportunity to talk to people or see what our employees’ preferences and interests are outside of the workplace.”
That includes talking about money
Talking about money can be awkward, but Winston says it can be crucial to understanding how a workplace is exploiting its employees. “If I’m only making $ 15 an hour, why is the guy next to me making $ 17 an hour and we’re doing the same?” She says. “When you start having these discussions and gathering information, it just happens organically. These workers stay in contact and then talk to the other employees. ”
Do not fear retaliation
Winston says many workers may withdraw from union efforts simply because they have become used to their exploitation and believe that nothing can be done about it. Others may fear retaliation from employers.
“Thank goodness for the National Labor Relations Board because we have laws that protect workers,” says Winston. That’s another reason unions are important, she says. “Make no mistake – there have been workers fired for organizing campaigns and through the union’s efforts we have managed to get those workers back on board,” she says.
“I often tell people who are scared … imagine what Martin Luther King Jr. would have done and John Lewis would have done and Rosa Parks would have done if they had been silent?” She says. “I’ll say there is a fear factor, but you have some people who are fearless. And thank God for them, because I don’t think we would … have been where we are if they hadn’t remained fearless or let fear stand in the way. ”
Solidarity is most important – with your colleagues, with other workers who are fighting their own battles in other companies.
“When you have this shared experience and this collective camaraderie, things start to change,” says Winston. “I think often the workers don’t know that the power lies within them and they could not only change their working conditions but, quite frankly, change their livelihoods. You can change your future. ”
She also says if you don’t succeed at first, be ready to wipe yourself off and try again. “It’s hard work,” she says. “It takes a lot of persistence and effort.”
Hospitality workers can learn more about joining a union at unitehere.org.
Amazon has prevented workers in Alabama from forming a union. Congressman Andy Levin says a new fight has only just begun.
Amazon has stopped workers in Alabama from forming a union. Congressman Andy Levin says a new fight has only just begun.
By Lee DeVito
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