Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's Time to Organize

From March 2009 APO Mail Buoy

North Pacific Observers! It’s Time to Organize
Union Contracts Expire 31 December 2009
We need more transparency in our Union!

Liz Mitchell; Fisheries Observer/ APO; North Pacific, USA

For the first time since we unionized in 1997, we now have an opportunity to get rid of the staggered Union contract negotiations! All contracts expire December 31, 2009 and observers have to start organizing now to make sure we are part of the negotiation of new contracts. We can’t afford to let this opportunity slip through our fingers. The APO would like to start organizing a handful of observer representatives from each contractor to hammer out labor issues and approach our Union as an organized unit representing ALL observers.

The staggering of contract negotiations have worked against us in the past and kept observers from organizing as a single unit. They approached us as specific contractor observers (AOI, NWO, Saltwater), keeping news of one contractor’s negotiations secret from the rest of the observers. They treated us as if we don’t all share the same labor issues. Observers from all three companies are paying union dues, and we don’t always stay with the same contractor. Therefore we should all be approached as a single unit, with transparency of developments throughout the year and involvement in contract negotiations, regardless of who our current employer is. If we are not going to negotiate a single contract, we should all have access to all the contracts so that we can decide for whom we wish to work.

The staggered negotiations have contributed to a false sense of loyalty to various contractors who are not loyal to us: there’s no job security, no job advancement, few benefits, ambiguous insurance, and our employment conditions still fall well below standards in comparable fields.

The odds against us are pretty staggering. We can assume that our contractors will have anti-Union legal representation. Our Union has legal representation also but our contracts are only 3 of dozens that our representative is working on and she doesn’t have an assistant. The contractors worked together by insisting on staggered negotiations to minimize our advances. But there’s that small fact that everything would collapse in Alaska without observers. That’s a powerful bargaining chip. It’s time we started working together to take charge of our own advancement. Our Union will not do it. It’s up to us.

There have been many changes in recent years that have impacted our livelihood, it can only get worse during these economic hard times when companies will lobby for all they can get as they tighten their belts. If we don’t begin organizing now, observer welfare will once again fall to the bottom of a long list of priorities that is typical in U.S. fisheries management.

The APO doesn’t want to work against the Union, we wish to transform our Union. We can assist the Union with negotiations by presenting our needs to the Union as an organized unit representing ALL observers. Please contact the APO if you would like to assist us with organizing observers, and negotiating for observer representation at the negotiations to make sure our voice is heard this time: apo@apo-observers.org.

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