Bad Morale More Than An Inconvenience

Soon, once again, like the arrival of Spring, employees of the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) will be asked to respond to a survey to assess the state of morale at the Agency. This year we should see the announcement next week – a little later than normal – the second full week in May.

Just like in the past a failing grade is almost certainly going to be the result. Since this time last year, the management of the USAGM has made no significant changes that would improve overall morale. There just seems to be no urgency to address the severe morale crisis.

There will be those who will shrug off the USAGM’s failing grade by claiming that the government shutdown hurt morale. But the government shutdown hurt numerous agencies and yet some of those same agencies will show major improvement in their morale while the USAGM will not.

It appears that the upper management of USAGM just simply does not value its employees – at least those rank and file employees that work for the VOA and TV/Radio Marti. They seem to be determined to demonstrate this over and over again. This problem is deeply seated and has been perpetuated over many years. Apparently, to be accepted into the upper management club, you must share if not a total disdain at most an indifference for the rank and file working for the USAGM.

So is high morale of any real importance? It sure seems to be. Studies have shown that in a significant number of instances high morale equals high productivity. This is not a surprise for those in the military. A demoralized army is almost certainly destined to be defeated. In sports, it is not unusual to hear the reason for a team’s failure to succeed and the subsequent sacking of its manager as being due to lack of morale.

Some believe that it makes no difference if they fill in the survey and this is understandable. Year after year the USAGM (formerly the BBG) received failing grades and no substantial changes happened. AFGE Local 1812 believes that there are those that are looking at the results and that it is worthwhile for employees to report their true feelings about the organization. For example in a recent Inspector General’s report (Targeted Inspection of the Governance of the United States Agency for Global Media ISP-IB-19-22 April 2019) it was noted that “USAGM consistently scored below average for the global satisfaction index among medium-size agencies participating in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.” The report indicated that the areas that actually showed improvement included training (especially pointing out supervisory training), employee development, work-life programs, and improvement in the number of supervisors who held discussions with employees regarding performance. We believe that more work in the areas of employee development and work-life programs would help. For instance there appears to be a retrenchment in the area of telework. Telework should be expanded especially in the case where employees are in areas that are being renovated and are potentially dangerous to their health. There are numerous single parents working at the Agency. Why has the Agency refused over and over again to participate in child care facilities for its employees? And why do Agency officials continue to irresponsibly designate as many employees as possible as “emergency employees” and force them to risk their health and safety to come in to the worksite during emergencies? In addition the habit of meting out the most extreme penalties to employees who commit transgressions is unnecessary and ultimately a waste of government resources and cannot possibly help with overall morale. The purposeful under-staffing throughout the Agency (except at the upper ranks of management) lets employees know that management does not care about their health as the stress levels just keep rising. “Less is more” in reality means “less is more stress”.

We encourage all employees to fill out this year’s OPM Employee Viewpoint Survey. Will it help? With others outside the Agency taking notice, we believe that eventually it will.

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No More Shutdowns

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Photo: J. David Cox leads silent protest

On February 13, 2019 federal employee union members conducted a protest in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. At approximately twelve noon, the gathering stood silently with arms raised to send a signal to politicians in Washington that another government shutdown would not be tolerated. The silent protest was lead by AFGE President, J. David Cox who was joined by various other Union leaders including AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumpka.

Chanting and signs are not allowed in the Hart Building so the crowd stood silently with arms raised for 35 minutes (one minute for each day of the latest and longest government shutdown). Each minute was marked by the chime of a bell. After 35 minutes applause and chanting erupted with shouts of never again and warnings from the police to the crowd of federal workers to disburse. President Cox promised that if the politicians dared to allow another shutdown to happen he and union members would be in every Senate and Congressional Office every single day until it ended.

Federal workers were either forced to work or were furloughed without pay for thirty-five days starting December 22, 2018. Some employees are still waiting to get their back pay and federal contractors may never receive any back pay for the time they were locked out of work.

 

Thank You, Walter B. Jones, Jr.’s

The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station located near Greenville, North Carolina (also known as VOA Site B) sadly lost a key supporter and champion.

Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr. of the 3rd Congressional District passed away on Sunday, February 10, 2019. Thanks to his support the only remaining VOA/Radio Marti shortwave broadcasting station in the continental United States was kept open and operating despite the desire and attempts of some U.S. international broadcasting officials to close it.

Congressman Jones had the foresight and wisdom to understand the important strategic and political value of keeping the Edward R. Murrow Shortwave Transmitting Station open and on the air.

The entire Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station’s management, staff, and technicians deeply appreciate all that he did for us and Eastern North Carolina. North Carolina has lost a truly noble and honorable son.

Below is a link to an obituary.

[Greenville, N.C. by Al Bailey/Steward, AFGE Local 1812(Retired)]

https://www.witn.com/content/news/Congressman-Walter-Jones-has-died-at-76-505643191.html

SHUTDOWN COUNTDOWN

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Day 34 – Still Held Hostage

This is not about keeping a promise. The promise that Mexico will pay for a wall is broken and very unlikely to be fulfilled. Even if a wall is built that was only half of the promise so it won’t be a promise kept anyway. Sooo…

Let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt and accept that he truly believes a wall is necessary. He hasn’t yet said anything to convince anyone of this need. For their part, the Democrats have not said anything yet to convince anyone that a wall isn’t necessary. Most of us are not experts on border security. And the idea that only one side cares about border security is nonsense. Each cares about border security.

Why not form a panel of experts – each side gets to appoint an equal number of members (but it should include at least two rank and file government employees who work in border security) – and this expert panel can debate this issue and hopefully arrive at a consensus that will be acceptable to both sides.

You don’t need to hold our paychecks hostage to get this done.

OPEN THE GOVERNMENT!

Members Suffer As Shutdown Continues

As the partial government shutdown continues employees at the Voice of America and Radio/TV Marti continue to suffer the consequences of not receiving a paycheck. AFGE Local 1812 has heard from numerous members who have had to make do without their paychecks and the uncertainty of when they would receive their next one. Some examples of how the shutdown is affecting members include:

An employee told AFGE Local 1812 that he had to borrow from his savings in order to make his January mortgage and to pay for his utilities. He has no idea where he will get the money for his February mortgage.

One employee had to borrow money from his retirement plan and will have to delay his retirement. Also, the reality is that OPM has been delayed in processing federal retirements and the shutdown will no doubt, only have a negative impact on the timely processing of retirements in the future.

Another reported that she had to tap into her savings to pay for her mortgage, gas, groceries, cellphone, etc.

One employee had major surgery in December. He got an infection while in the hospital and has major medical bills piling up. He does not have the opportunity to find another job while he is recuperating.

Another employee reports that he had to raid his kid’s college fund to make payments that were due including the mortgage. He has had to put a spring break trip for his kids on hold and he reports the kids are really upset over the whole situation.

An employee reported that his wife had a high-risk pregnancy and was unable to work so his household was reduced to a one paycheck household with high medical bills. Now he has been forced to borrow money from friends and does not know what he will do if the shutdown lasts much longer.

An employee is worried that his automatic payments may have insufficient funds. He has two kids in college and had to make tuition payments. He was sending money to his mother overseas and for the first time has had to skip sending her the money she relies on.

Another employee’s spouse is also a government employee and he too is not receiving a paycheck due to the shutdown. They will have to dip into savings to make the next mortgage payment if this shutdown continues. They have kids in college and have no idea how they will make those payments. To make matters worse they have medical bills piling up due to the employee’s cancer treatments.

An employee has had to resort to a food bank and to pawning personal items. A friend even donated items to her so she could pawn them. The employee’s spouse was not working so they were already reduced to a one paycheck household.

To add insult to injury most of these members have been excepted from the furlough so they are being required to work even though they are not going to be paid until the shutdown is over. Those that have been excepted from the furlough cannot apply for unemployment benefits and they cannot seek a job in the meantime.

Those that have been furloughed can apply for unemployment but will have to pay it back when they receive their back pay. Many are finding it hard to find work in the meantime because employers know that once the shutdown is over, they will go back to their government jobs.

For our members, AFGE has information on how you may be able to get assistance during the shutdown. Go to: https://www.afge.org/take-acti…/campaigns/stop-the-shutdown/ for information about possible financial assistance, TSP loan information, furloughed worker support from Union Plus, and how to find your local food bank.

Ordinary middle class Americans are suffering over a political squabble. Our paychecks are being held hostage because of a funding dispute between the White House and Congress. It is time to decouple our paychecks from this dispute and federal employee workers’ paychecks should never be part of a budget dispute in the future.

Photo: AFGE Members protest the shutdown in New York City.

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Not So Fast, Results Not So Rosy

In an October 16th email to all employees CEO and Director John Lansing boasted that the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) “continued its upward trend with a 3 percent average increase across all indicators” in the 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). He noted that the government-wide average increase was 1%.

This year’s results show that there was a precipitous drop in participation at the USAGM. The participation rate this year was 58.5%. Compare that with last year’s participation rate of 75%, or 2016’s participation rate of 63.4%, or even the participation rate in 2015 which was 74.3%. In talking with fellow employees, AFGE Local 1812 became concerned about the number of people who said they were not going to participate in the survey this year because “it doesn’t make any difference.” We suspect the 3% average increase across all indicators could be explained in great part by the lack of participation of the most jaded employees. The increases can also be explained in part because when you start with a mark so far below the government-wide average there is just more room for improvement. This year’s results did not result in the USAGM improving its position in relation to its ranking among all other agencies.

There are two main indices used in the survey: the Global Satisfaction Index and the New IQ Index. The New IQ index is further subdivided into 4 subcategories.

The Agencies are grouped in five categories according to the number of employees: Very Large Agencies, Large Agencies, Medium Agencies, Small Agencies, and Very Small Agencies. The USAGM is included with the Medium Agencies. In every index the USAGM falls below the government-wide average.

In the Global Satisfaction Index the USAGM received a 57% for positive responses. That is 10% below the average for agencies of the same size. It is also the second lowest in the Medium Agency category only above the Department of Education (52%) which threw its Union Local out of the building and imposed a draconian contract on its employees.

In the New IQ Overall Index the USAGM scored a 54% for positive responses. That is 10% below the average for agencies of the same size. It was dead last for all Medium Agencies.

In the New IQ Fair Index the USAGM received a 41% for positive responses. That is 11% below the average for agencies of the same size.

In the New IQ Open Index the USAGM received a 55% for positive responses. That is 8% below the average for agencies of the same size.

In the New IQ Cooperative Index the USAGM received a 49% for positive responses. That is a whopping 13% below the average for agencies of the same size.

In the New IQ Supportive Index the USAGM received a 72% for positive responses. That is 10% below the average for agencies of the same size.

No matter how you spin it, the USAGM is once again the Bottom of the Barrel and in 2018, just as in past years, received a failing grade.

The news is the same for the International Broadcasting Bureau and the Voice of America. Digging deeper into the results, there was only one area under the USAGM that was above the line in every category – the Office of Security. Congratulations to them.

The Engineering and Transmission Directorate, the Resource and Project Management Directorate, and the Technical Support Division/TV Maintenance Service all had only one category that was below the government-wide average but that’s really the end of any positive news.

There were several units in the agency in which not a single category was rated above the government-wide average. The Office of Contracts, The Office of the CIO, the Programming Directorate, the English to Africa Service, Broadcast Operations, the English Division, the Persian News Network, Central News and Production, the East Asia and Pacific Division, the Mandarin Service, the Afghanistan and Dari Service, the VOA News Center and the Real Time News Desk all failed across the board. If you are looking for a reassignment or detail, employees of the agency would be wise to avoid these areas of toxic morale.

Checking in with Miami, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting had one category that managed to better the government-wide average but by only one percentage point. All other categories were below the line.

What seems to be obvious, but it will not happen, is that supervisors and managers of the failing areas should be removed from their positions. At the very least they should be required to significantly improve morale in their areas in the 2019 FEVS or face reassignment or removal. But the USAGM has never held these failing managers accountable.

Overall, these results are far from anything to crow about. After all these years maybe all of those employees who refused to take part in the survey this year were right – it just doesn’t matter. No matter the results, the USAGM will just continue along the course upper management has plotted—paying lip service to improving morale but never significantly improving it.

The numbers don’t lie.

A Mass of Remembrance

A Mass of Remembrance was held for Marie Ciliberti on November 7, 2018 in Silver Spring, Maryland at Our Lady Queen of Poland Catholic Church. That day would have been her 82nd birthday. Members of the AFGE Local 1812 Executive Board attended and the Union provided a beautiful flower spray for the service.

Marie was a devout Roman Catholic and the service was traditional with most of it being conducted in Latin. It gave everyone the chance to remember how much she contributed to those around her. She would have been very pleased with the service which stressed what she found important in her life, her religion, her belief in freedom, and her willingness to help those who needed assistance.

We were not surprised that she attended this particular church. She was very proud of her Polish ancestry. AFGE Local 1812 office manager, Bogomila Mireva noticed a remarkable fact- Marie passed away on October 22nd – the feast day of John Paul II, the Polish Pope. As Union member Verla Wiley exclaimed: “Only Marie could have pulled that off!”

Former AFGE Local 1812 Executive Board member Ted Landphair wanted to share his memories of working with Marie.

I am far away, in Arizona and knew Marie professionally rather than in her life away from work, and so I do not know her family or how to reach them. But I would like them to know how special Marie was to many people. If there is a window in her Mass of Remembrance to read my comments about Dear Marie, I would be honored:

Marie was a fierce conservative; I am more liberal every day. We were both longtime broadcasters at the Voice of America but in disparate branches in distant parts of the building. Yet we were fast friends and mutual admirers, owing to our shared devotion to the employee union of which we were Board members.

Marie, and I to a lesser extent because I was constantly traveling on behalf of the agency, made every effort to “speak truth to power” within the Voice of America, confronting management and a punitive “human relations” office that was not always human at all in its treatment of rank-and-file employees. Marie, in particular, put her actions where her sentiments were, speaking forcefully in forums and staff meetings and walking in the vanguard of picketing protests when called for.

She and I had the most genial of spats, especially about politics, slipping each other digs and winks when the fortunes of “our side” seemed on the rise. There were no winners or losers in our disagreements, except, regrettably, on the issue of smoking. I could not talk Marie out of it.

We both despised hypocrisy and condescension. I was the more temperate about it: Marie was mild-mannered until outrage over injustices overwhelmed her, at which time it was woe unto those who would mistreat or malign the “ordinary” (really not ordinary at all) person.

By now her survivors have heard or read many versions of the cliche, “She will be missed” and the one about her “making a difference.” These are not cliches in the case of dear Marie. She changed an entire bureaucratic culture — or at least never stopped trying to — for the better.

God bless her work, her life, and her soul.Marie's Flowers

The Passing of Marie Ciliberti

Marie Ciliberti

Marie Ciliberti passed away Monday, October 22, 2018. You can read her obituary here:

https://www.chandlerfuneralhome.com/obituaries/marie-anne-ciliberti/

She worked for the VOA Russian Service and was particularly proud of her work with Willis Conover, broadcasting jazz music to many fans behind the iron curtain. She believed in the mission of the VOA and believed that the freedom expressed in the American art form of jazz was a one of the best ways to make connections with the people of the world.

After many years she retired from the VOA but she remained a presence in our lives as a member of AFGE Local 1812. She served on the AFGE Local 1812 Executive Board and served as the Local’s Legislative Coordinator. Many members learned how to contact their members of Congress and Senators through the tutelage of Marie. So many colleagues were able to continue working for the VOA because she fought so fiercely to protect their language services from being eliminated. When the closure of a language service became inevitable, she fought just as hard to have members of that language service placed in positions so that they could continue their federal careers.

She loved fighting for employees who she believed were unjustly treated especially those facing false charges against them or overly harsh and punitive disciplinary actions. We loved her for doing so.

She was a source of wise advise and institutional knowledge for many of us.

Here are some of the thoughts her colleagues have expressed about her. Please leave your thoughts as well.

I am devastated. I knew her age, but she looked great. – Isabela Coccoli

I have been thinking of her – such a wonderful lady. She did so much good in this world. – Zamira Edwards

I’m very sad to hear this. I got to know Marie in 2010 when BBG was trying to cut 65% Mandarin Service. Marie fought together with us successfully to defend the Service. Ever since then, I saw Marie in every fight along with us. I pray for her in heaven. – Robert Li

May her soul rest in Peace. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and loved ones. –  Grace Abdu

My heart is broken.- Huchen Zhang

She was so supportive of me, and protected me against my worse instincts. – Camille Grosdidier

I’m so sad to learn of the passing of Marie. She was an inspiration to all of us for her passion towards preserving human dignity and justice. Marie was an outstanding Union Legislative Coordinator. I miss receiving her email regarding issues being discussed in different Congressional committees, mostly related to Latin America. Those emails were sent late at night and I was impressed by her high energy and thorough investigation going past midnight.

We will miss her dearly. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her loved ones. – Gonzalo Abarca

What A Loss For Us, She’ll be greatly missed. – Maureen Allen

May her soul rest in perfect peace. Please, my condolence to her family and friends. – Usman Ahmad

 

THE MISERABLE MORALE MORASS

The results of the 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) will be announced soon. You completed the survey, didn’t you? Or perhaps you didn’t, because your morale is so low and, after years of completing these surveys, hoping upon hope that they would make a difference, you realize that the Agency’s high-ranking officials (let’s not call them leaders) are unable and unwilling to raise morale and the surveys did not make any significant difference.

You didn’t need a calendar anymore to know when FEVS season came around – all of a sudden the Agency began prioritizing internal communication in the hope that maybe the survey numbers will tick up in some categories so it can claim, as it always does, that “we are headed in the right direction.” This year, we got 3 x 5 multi-colored cards titled “Set the Direction.” The cards encouraged us to complete the survey to “help build the road-map to improve our Agency.” The Agency’s top officials, bereft of credibility, lessened that credibility even more with a statement like that. Does anyone believe the survey results will be used as a road-map to improve the agency? Anyone? Years and years of surveys haven’t resulted in raised morale. Why would this survey do so? According to last year’s survey results the BBG remained in last place among mid-sized federal agencies and VOA ranked near the bottom of hundreds of sub-agencies. BBG and VOA have been bottom-dwellers for years, despite the (half-hearted) efforts on the part of Agency officials to raise morale. Virtually everything they have done has failed.

The card listed “just few initiatives” (the “a” was left out; good proofreading job there!) “that were developed based on FEVS feedback.” It then goes on to list eight initiatives; many of them are thin, some of them seem to exist only on paper, and all of them exist in a healthy agency – feedback or not. Agency officials seem to want credit for implementing initiatives as a result of FEVS feedback which should have been in place regardless of the FEVS!

What’s next, credit for the building having a roof? Credit for clean water, heat and AC? These hapless officials seem to want credit for implementing ideas that a good leader would have long ago put in place. As important and even substantial as a few of the initiatives are, to give credit to FEVS feedback for implementing them reveals the officials for what they are – incompetent, unimaginative and devoid of initiative.

We don’t need any more surveys or ice cream socials or promises. We need action and strong, imaginative, bold and competent leaders.

Don’t list as an accomplishment that you created the Office of Workforce Support & Development. This office should have been set up years ago.

Don’t ask for plaudits for increasing funding for the awards program; fully funded awards programs should have been in place years ago. Agencies that rank high in the FEVS surveys have robust awards programs.

Finally, after years of our pleading, the Agency has increased its training budget, another initiative the Agency credits to FEVS feedback. After much prompting by AFGE Local 1812, the Agency brought in TSP trainers (both in Washington and Miami). The classes were wildly popular. Why did it take Union pressure for the Agency to do what it should have been doing all along? You can’t just say you care about employees – you have to actually take action that shows employees you care about them. And recently, after more Union pressure, the Agency has agreed to offer classroom training on federal benefits for new, mid-career and soon-to-retire employees. Kudos, but why did it take pressure from the Union for these classes to be scheduled?

The Agency seems to want credit for implementing WebTA. The system seems popular among employees, but should have been implemented a decade ago. Why is this listed as something the Agency wants credit for?

ePerformance is listed, as well. Again, the Agency wants compliments for instituting an electronic system to replace a paper-based system. This should have been done at least ten years ago. You want credit for putting something in place ten years after you should have done so? Really?

We are told that Workplace, an internal Facebook, has been launched to improve internal communication. Yet it is no better than email, and few have signed on. The Cohen building network external Facebook page is much more popular, more trusted and more robust. We cringe at the thought of the cost to create, implement and operate Workplace.

As well, we are told that full-time staff have been designated to support internal communication. Who are they? What do they do? What have they accomplished?

Perhaps the most egregious example of an initiative claimed by the Agency is Leadership 20/20 and 360 Assessments for Managers. You want credit for launching a leadership program? And this came as a result of FEVS feedback? You needed FEVS feedback to know that you needed to have a leadership program? And you’re again promising effective 360 assessments for managers after years and years of promising that you would? You expect us to believe you? Please.

It is clear that the Agency’s high-ranking officials are clueless, uninspired and are in positions for which they are not qualified. This Agency needs a turnaround specialist who is willing to clear out the upper level deadwood and eager to implement bold, dramatic policies and procedures. Without such leadership, we will continue to founder, plugging along until Congress finally decides to put us out of our misery.

A TRUE RED, WHITE, AND BLUE HOLIDAY

In the United States, at the beginning of the industrial revolution, citizens began forming unions to fight for their freedom and human dignity while at work. The times were not that far removed from the American Revolution and many had fought in the Revolution or had fathers who had done so. The nature of work was changing and supposedly free men were not ready to accept the way work was structured in the newly forming industrial factories. Many employees felt that they were being treated as “wage slaves”. Unions were being formed to push back against the unrestrained power of management at work and to remind employers that those working for them are human beings and deserving of human dignity and respect. Is there anything more patriotic and American than that? After all, the United States was formed when the citizens of relatively powerless separate colonies united together to fight collectively for their rights. Labor Day is a celebration of those who have to work for a living and to celebrate the ability to unite together to advance their rights collectively.

On this Labor Day federal employee Union members will also be celebrating a legal victory. On August 25, 2018 Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson issued a ruling that blocked the implementation of major portions of three Executive Orders issued by President Trump on May 25, 2018. Executive Order 13836 would have severely restricted federal unions right to bargain collectively. Executive Order 13839 would allow for the firing of federal employees while severely limiting their right to appeal the charges against them. Executive Order 13837 would have severely restricted the time Union officials could use to represent bargaining unit members while “on the clock”.

Executive Order 13837 relabeled official time as “taxpayer funded union time” in order to misleadingly portray it as being something other than agency work. The use of official time by employee union representatives is a favorite target of pro-corporate/anti-worker interest groups. According to their thinking, in the case of federal workers, employees on official time are working for the union – not the government agency. But that is not the case.

Union representatives on official time are not employees of some third party organization. Union officials are employees of the government agency who act as representatives for their fellow employees. In some cases, employees seeking assistance from Union representatives may not even be Union members. The Federal Service Labor Management Relations Act (FSLMRA) gave most federal employees the right to bargain collectively but it required an open shop. In other words, if employees voted to be represented by a Union, employees could not be required to become a member of the Union. Nevertheless, the Union was required to represent all the employees in the bargaining unit whether an employee was a Union member or not.

Unlike in the private sector, federal employees’ employer is the federal government and they are therefore entitled to some of the protections guarantied under the United States Constitution from their employer. One of those rights is due process. So, for example, if a federal employee is charged with some work infraction, because his/her employer is the federal government s/he must be given due process. Someone in the agency must represent the employee in whatever appellate system is established to provide the required due process. The work of the Union representative, in this case, is not the work of some outside entity. It is agency work. Someone has to do it and those who wrote the FSLMRA determined that it would be best if, instead of having the agency appoint the employee’s representative (who would not necessarily act solely in the interest of the employee), the employee would get to choose who his or her representative is. This is done democratically because that is how Union representatives are selected.

Employees have the right to determine if they will form a Union or not through a democratic election. If a Union is elected, Union members then vote on who their representatives are. When you celebrate Labor Day this year remember that there is probably no better example of democracy than a Union meeting and Union elections and there is probably no better reflection of what our revolutionary forefathers fought for than protecting one’s human rights through the collective power of a Union.