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Friday, February 24, 2012

UnionThink

Can't rule out making some haters from this, but I haven't ranted for a while.... this blog used to be all about ranting and I just haven't had much to rant about since getting into my terrific new job. Summarily, the posts have thinned out to the remaining non-rant topics, and the readership has subsequently dropped. So... rant time!

UnionThink is the warped, disconnected from logical reality way of thinking that doesn't come naturally from the workforce. It pretty much only appears from union members, due to the evolution of unions from an umbrella of protection to a confederation of greed. I understand the need for protection. I've been a dues-paying member myself. If only protection remained the mission. In fact, I've never heard of a union having a mission statement to occasionally verify their bearings and purpose from. Any you know that have one? What is it?

Don't get me wrong, not all dues-paying union members are like this. I am hopeful that most aren't. But nearly all people who do think this way are in a union, and that is where they picked it up. The same way my oldest daughter, who is stunningly beautiful and freak-out intelligent, recently went totally off the rails after a couple of years of bad friend influences despite our efforts. Yes, prevention may not be possible.

Here is the microcosm seed for the rant. The working agreement between my outfit and the IBEW local states that overtime must be shared equally, but does not get into any specifics of how we make that happen. It is quite ambiguous in its definition.

The way we've been managing overtime for years is to keep track of how many OT hours you have accumulated on the year, and release a callout list every week with the lowest OT hours at the top and highest at the bottom. When you have a callout, you start at the lowest hours guy and work your way down until you get someone.

The problem is, some guys frequently don't want OT, or they like to "cherry pick" their OT by asking what the call is. These guys end up at the top of the list because their acceptances are low. Thus, we end up wasting our time on every callout by going through the people who don't answer or say no, and wasting our time describing the incident to someone who only wants the "good" ones, before finally getting someone to take the call down somewhere past the 5th or 6th person.

Since the rules are ambiguous, we are proposing a change. We are being nice and proposing it to them even though the agreement definition does not require us to, and there is no doubt it would survive arbitration. The change is a rolling callout list, and requiring a simple yes or no response without discussion.

Now, I take my callout list and start at the top. If I get the 3rd guy to take it, that is where I will start my calls on the next incident, on the 4th. This spreads the number of callouts to each employee perfectly evenly, and it is up to the employee to take it or not. This saves us time, as we get someone on the road earlier without the guaranteed initial nuisance calls. People with their power out will appreciate that.

This change will also vastly improve some callout acceptance percentages for my guys. For example, I've got one guy who hangs in the middle of the pack who has been working a great deal of OT and actually worked the most OT last week by a wide margin, but relative to how many calls were made to him, his acceptance rate was below 30%, partially because he was worn out and had to say no here and there. Another guy farther down the list who has accumulated his OT by being held over instead of called out has only been called three times, worked two of them, and has not willfully contributed much on callouts historically. Yet, his acceptance rate is 67%. Where's the justice? My hard worker is getting dinged on his performance even though he is by far the better of these two.

Under the rolling list, my hard worker example will get called fewer times and not have to refuse so many, forcing his acceptance rate up without any change in effort on his part. The no-OT people will get called vastly fewer times, and the cherry pickers will be forced to stop cherry picking because (a) they won't be told what the job is first, and (b) the calls will be fewer and far between and they better say yes now and then to get the OT.

So we take this to the guys, and they don't like it. They reason that if you don't have as much OT as other guys, it will be harder or impossible to catch up. Also, with the calls for those at the top farther apart, there will be less chances of them getting calls in the time window that kicks in their premium pay rule.

As a side note to the change, we are also invoking a callout exemption for certain predefined emergency events, where the closest serviceman will be called without regard to the callout list at all. But, the emergency event has to be one we've pre-defined, to avoid claims of gaming the system for anyone. Emergencies are pole damage, wire down, arcing/fire involving equipment, structure fires, and as requested by 911.

They perceive this whole thing as what we are taking away from them, as if it was an evil scheme because managers hate union employees. Where in the rules does it say we are responsible to make sure everyone works the same amount of OT despite the inconsistent OT behavior across the ranks?  The rules talk about equal OT opportunities, not guaranteed OT equity.

Insert reality here. Let's try to remember what we do, why we exist, and who we work for.

We keep the lights on.

We exist to keep the lights on.

We work for the people whose lights we keep on.

The new callout procedure will help us get personnel on the road earlier, especially in emergencies, and will save us money by eliminating the rules nuance that some of the guys play to get into premium time situations. Premium time will still happen, but it will be nearly impossible to "arrange" it any more. We are making OT available to everyone as fairly as possible, and it is up to you, the employee, to take it or leave it. It is not up to us to help you catch up if you get behind.

Faster response, save money. Wow, imagine that. As managers, that's in line with what we are charged with. We know our mission.

Some of my union people have forgotten what we do and why we're here, and only concern themselves with what they feel entitled to, especially if a change reduces that "entitlement".

That is why unions are broken. And it's too bad, because they once had a noble and necessary purpose. Sadly, UnionThink has detached from reality.

The new callout procedure will probably go into effect anyway, because it is the right thing to do for the ratepayers. Because in reality, it is the ratepayer that pays us money and actually has an entitlement to what they pay us to do. That's reality.


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