THE “UNION REP HOW TO” GUIDE

Have you ever thought about running for a position in your union? No, well you are a lot smarter than you look then! You may have considered it for any of the reasons that follow.

  • You feel like you don’t get a hard enough time from the people on yours calls.
  • You really want to test your limits
  • You have recently had a lobotomy
  • You are not making sound decisions
  • You have a genuine desire to help those you work with

If any of this fits you, I have a few tips to get you started.

First, I want to take note of the fact that I am aware that not all police officers’ union structures are the same and in fact many are not in a formal labor organization at all. I guess if you are not in a union you can skip this article. May I suggest finding a good recipe for fish tacos – a fantastic summer meal!

At its most basic level, being a union representative is being an advocate for those you represent, whether that means speaking to a supervisor on their behalf, going with them to an internal affairs interview or simply making sure they know their rights under the contract.

Being an effective advocate is a combination of desire, knowledge and experience. I have three general pieces of advice to start you on the path towards being a reliable and effective advocate.

 

#1 – KNOW YOUR CONTRACT

 To begin with you need to know your contract (however it is termed, e.g. collective bargaining agreement, memorandum of understanding, settlement or just a pinky swear with the chief and the mayor that this is what we will do).

This is harder than you might think a lot of people think they know what the contract says, and they love to tell you about it. But what I have found is that few people really know it well.

You should be one of the people who knows what it says. This may require that you read it cover-to-cover several times and ask questions of someone else who has experience about how the more vague areas of the contract have been interpreted over time.

Much like the Constitution, your contract is most likely a living document that has been changed and interpreted differently at various times. Starting to get a feel for this is an important step but don’t be too worried, this is one of the parts that comes with experience.

 

It also helps if you are reasonably well acquainted with the rules and procedures of your department and have at least a passing familiarity with police work.

 

#2 – BE AVAILABLE

Make sure that the people you represent know how to get a hold of you and you know how to get a hold of them. You might find yourself answering question or listening to gripes when you are not at work.

Some of the calls maybe ridiculous, some gravely serious but they will almost always come when you have too many things in your hands or are on top of a ladder trying to hang those Christmas lights.

Availability is key to making your constituents feel they have the support they need to do their jobs and provide for their family. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have some time off just make sure you communicate.

Let your people know that they will have to call another representative while you are away or on Sunday mornings or whenever.

 

#3 – KNOW WHEN YOU ARE OVER YOUR HEAD

My last piece of advice is to know when you are in over your head, which in the beginning will be all the time. Don’t be afraid to get someone else: the union president, the attorney or another representative who has more experience.

There is nothing wrong with asking questions and getting help. Even though I have been doing this for a while I still routinely answer questions I get by saying, “I don’t know but I will find out.” Making someone wait a little bit for the right answer is much better than giving them the wrong answer quickly.

Being a union representative isn’t for everyone. It can be frustrating but if you enjoy helping the people you work with, it is a great way to help.

Remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about saving just ONE life.

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