Having been a union representative for many years, the number of members who come to us for the 1st time after 15-25 years of trouble-free service in the Federal Government never ceases to amaze me. Generally speaking, the reasons for the meeting are because something changed and that change has negatively affected the member’s work life. The problem may stem from organizational changes or reporting hierarchy, or a manager whose management “style” makes the member’s life difficult, and it gets tougher and tougher for them to get motivated to come to work each day. Finally, the situation becomes unbearable and the member either has to leave (retirement or stress leave) or work with us to resolve the problems and restore respect and productivity.
Where would you go for help?
The question we ask all of our members is this: without a union representative, what would your future at work look like if you were to find yourself in a troubled situation? If you go to Human Resources (HR), you will likely be told that although they empathize with your situation, their role is to represent management. Either the manager or HR will advise you to seek help at Employee Assistance Program (EAP). What can EAP do to help? Offer tips on dealing with the abusive situation but tips are a band-aid on a gushing wound. You may be referred to the Departmental Values Integrity and Conflict Resolution (VICR) office, but – again – VICR will only give you advice on how you might either more easily tolerate the work situation or offer mediation between you and the manager. It can work…but it is a confrontation, and most members are terrified of a face-to-face confrontation with their manager.
What can the union representatives do?
From a position of equal authority with management, your union representative can insist that the workplace return to a respectful and productive environment. Regardless of the problem – micromanaging, harassment, bullying or failure to provide understanding and accommodation for a temporary personal problem – we can help turn things around almost all of the time.
Running away from the problem could run you into a mess of trouble
Stressful situations at work can make you sick and stress can trigger the fight or flight instinct. The part of the human mind that says “RUN” isn’t thinking about the future. You may be tempted to run away from the problem by taking sick leave…but did you know that after one year on sick leave, your substantive position could be filled with an indeterminate employee? That would mean that you could be placed on a priority list if your doctor refuses to continue to sign your medical documents. Even if the medical doctor signs the forms, there is no guarantee that your medical claims will be accepted by the insurance company and you will have placed yourself into financial jeopardy. After two years, you could receive a letter to tell you that you are being terminated for medical incapacity and you are being offered a medical retirement (that is if you are approved by Health Canada). Medical retirements are granted when a medical team believes that you will never be able to work in any capacity again. You may find yourself battling with your insurance company to get benefits for any extended period of time.
Facing the problem…together!
Wouldn’t it have been easier to talk to your union representative and let them take care of the logistics of your situation? Local 70713’s success stories are amazing and most people wonder why they didn’t come to see us sooner. Please don’t wait until your situation becomes unbearable. We represent professionally, fairly and with the collaboration of all parties and – almost always – it’s a win-win for all.
A side-note on Duty to Accommodate: the laws in Canada have changed and family needs are now included in the Employer’s Duty to Accommodate. The family dynamic has changed and so have the laws and the Collective Agreement. Contact us to find out how these changes affect families with children and/or aging parents and how flexibility is the standard now.