As a young railroad employee, I wondered why we had the wages and benefits that we had, why we had rules for assignments and for the work we performed. I wondered what could be done to make things right when things didn’t seem right. Only then did I attend my first local meeting.
I discovered local officers conduct the meeting in an orderly fashion and officers give reports related to their positions. I discovered that due to our collectively bargained agreement, a grievance process exists through which we can submit claims for violation of our rights. But what are those rights? What is the contract?
Further interest revealed that our “contract” is actually a compendium of many agreements made over a period of time. The Railway Labor Act provides that all agreements remain in effect until changed. They do not expire. This means that interpretation is required as to what earlier agreements have been changed by later agreements, and interpretation can be made only by the parties to agreement — the UTU and the carriers.
Had my local not held regular meetings, I would not have had an opportunity to learn the basics of how my union works. Had my local officers not conducted meetings in an orderly and professional manner, I would not have learned about my contract and how it is applied.
I don’t recall ever being invited to attend my first local meeting. Maybe I was invited, but too self-centered or all-knowing to care. Maybe I was too busy to take the time.
I have learned much about this industry in the years since my early local meetings, but the foundation for my understanding began there. I am eternally grateful for that opportunity, and for the desire to learn from a reliable source.
My message to you is to attend your local meetings.
Be active and take part in discussions. Ask questions of your local officers. If so moved, run for local office. The more you become involved, the more of an asset you are to your union.
Most importantly, ask a member to attend your local meeting, especially the young members. We can all make a difference.