Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union: Wikis

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BCTGM
BCTGM logo.png
Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union
Founded 1886
Members 100,000
Country United States, Canada
Affiliation AFL-CIO, CLC
Key people Frank Hurt, president
Office location Kensington, Maryland, United States
Website www.bctgm.org

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union (BCTGM) is a labor union in the United States and Canada. It has a membership of 100,000. The union organizes workers in bakeries, candy, cereal, sugar, grain mills, tobacco plants, food processing and manufacturing facilities and in many other occupations related to these industries. The BCTGM is an organization of, by and for working people. Union brothers and sisters have the right to elect local leaders and participate in making decisions that will affect them.

The union traces its history to the founding of the Journeymen Bakers Union in 1886. The contemporary BCTGM was formed in January, 1999 from the merger of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers' International Union and the American Federation of Grain Millers.

The BCTGM is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Labour Congress and the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF).

Contents

History

The predecessors of today's BCTGM include the Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union of America, one of the pioneers of the North American labor movement. The B&C began as the Journeymen's Bakers Union, organized in 1886 in Pittsburgh, PA. In 1957, the American Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union was formed. In 1969, the two organizations united under the B&C banner.

The Tobacco Workers International Union was founded in 1895 and was also in the forefront of the early labor movement. As it and the Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union of America shared many common goals, both organizations came to realize that these goals could best be achieved through merger. That merger, creating the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers (BCT), took place in 1978.

The American Federation of Grain Millers (AFGM) also has roots stemming back to the 1800s. In 1936, the National Council of Grain Processors was formed when a number of smaller grain milling unions agreed to unite as a national union under the banner of the American Federation of Labor, one of the early umbrella organizations for labor unions. In 1941, the council was renamed the American Federation of Grain Processors and in 1948 was reorganized as the AFGM. Shared goals and shared industries led to the January 1, 1999 merger between the BCT and AFGM, creating the modern BCTGM.

From the beginning, the predecessors of today’s BCTGM organized workers in the U.S. and Canada. Consequently, they included the word “International” in their names, BCTGM does today. By uniting food, tobacco and other workers in its industries across North America, BCTGM strives to provide working men and women with the power to improve their lives, secure their rights on the job and contribute to a better society.

Workers' Rights in the Workplace

Unions organize working people to work together to achieve common goals in the workplace and in society. Through the union, workers can negotiate with management about pay, benefits and conditions in the workplace, under the protection of the law. In the United States, the basic law is the National Labor Relations Act. In Canada, provincial and federal labour laws protect those rights. This process of working collectively to improve wages and working conditions is called collective bargaining and leads to an agreement called a “contract” between the workers and management.

Without a union, workers are considered “employees at will.” Legally that phrase means that unless a federal, state or provincial law is violated, the employer can unilaterally determine all terms and conditions of employment, including whether one can keep a job or not. Workers organize a union to limit the employer’s ability to make arbitrary decisions. Workers gain a voice in decisions affecting their working life.

The BCTGM contract is the principal way workers in its industries try to secure fairness and receive justice on the job. Just as employers enter into contracts with other companies to protect their interests in business dealings, the union contract guarantees in writing the working conditions workers want to ensure.

Contracts typically cover such rights and benefits as... • Pay levels and pay raises • Health coverage • Job security • Promotions • Paid time off for vacations and holidays • Retirement benefits • Rules about how workers must be treated on the job • A grievance procedure to resolve disputes between workers and management and to guarantee due process. • Health and safety The contract is typically negotiated with management by a bargaining committee made up of fellow workers selected by union members and leaders of the Union. Every member has a right to make suggestions about what should be in the contract and to vote on the final agreement.

Once an agreement is reached and ratified by the union membership, management cannot legally change the terms of the contract without negotiating with the union. The law protects this right for organized workers only.

Due Process In the Workplace

Everyone wants to have smooth working relationships on the job. But problems arise in every workplace. Without a union, workers must try to resolve these problems by themselves, dealing directly with a supervisor or manager who has complete authority over the solution. Management has no obligation to provide due process or have an independent third party make the final decision.

A BCTGM union contract typically includes a formal “grievance procedure” to protect workers from being treated unfairly or fired without good reason. It also protects a worker from discrimination or favoritism in work assignments, promotion, layoffs, and in the way other issues are handled. If management violates the contract in any way, members can file a complaint through the union that is processed through the objective “grievance procedure.”

If a worker thinks management may have violated his or her rights as spelled out in the contract, the member can consult a BCTGM steward. The steward is also a rank and file union member who has volunteered or been elected to represent fellow workers in the workplace. The steward and other local union leaders can answer questions and help figure out the best way to solve workplace problems. Sometimes that process involves discussions with management. Sometimes it requires getting the support of other workers for direct action to achieve a fair solution.

If no resolution is reached and the grievance procedure is followed through to the end, a final decision is made by an impartial arbitrator chosen and paid by both parties and dependent on neither.

BCTGM Structure

When a worker joins the BCTGM, they became a member of a local union. The local union organizes and represents workers in BCTGM industries in defined geographic areas or at a specific facility. The local has the main responsibility for enforcing worker rights under the union contract. There are many BCTGM local unions throughout the United States and Canada. The local number is a way of identifying the area and the workers who make up the union. All of the local unions together make up the International BCTGM, which coordinates actions and defends workers rights and living standards throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The local union negotiates most BCTGM contracts. In some companies or industries, regional or national agreements provide for common terms to be applied to local contracts. In such situations, local officers and members work with the International Officers to negotiate the standardized language addressing national or regional issues, while local officers lead bargaining to resolve specific local issues.

Every local union has a minimum of five officers prescribed by the International Constitution—a President, a Financial Secretary and three Trustees. Some Local Union Bylaws provide for additional officers. All officers are elected by the membership in elections that take place on a regular basis as spelled out by the Local Union Bylaws. Some locals also elect, appoint or employ business agents to represent members and help the officers coordinate union activities. Other positions that may be included in the Local Union Bylaws are: Vice President, Recording Secretary, Treasurer, and Sergeant-at-Arms. Stewards are elected or appointed to represent members at the plant level.

The Steward is the first line of communication within the local union. The Steward is there to assist in resolving any employment related problems and to answer questions. By law, a Steward is on an equal footing with management when dealing with violations of the contract. The shop steward system means a worker never has to be alone when trying to resolve a dispute with management.

As mentioned, the International Union is made up of all the BCTGM local unions combined. International union officers and staff organize workers and coordinate the efforts of local unions throughout the United States and Canada. All BCTGM locals have access to the services available from the International Headquarters in Kensington, Maryland.

The International Union, in turn, affiliates with the larger federations of unions in the U.S.—the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); in Canada—the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC); and, globally—the International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF).

The International Union supports locals with... • Organizing new members to increase everyone’s bargaining power. • Mobilizing members and coordinating activity so all work toward common goals in contract negotiations, political action, and organizing. • Communicating information to members and the general public. • Training and educational programs for local leaders,stewards, and members. • Providing advice and assistance from experienced negotiators, educators, researchers, attorneys, safety and health professionals, auditors and communications specialists.

All of the elected leaders of the Union come from organized facilities in BCTGM industries. They became active in the union, often as stewards, and were recognized by their co-workers as leaders.

Every four years, union members elect delegates to an International convention, which, in turn, elects International Officers and sets policy for the BCTGM. The convention is the ultimate governing body of the union. Delegates also elect the General Executive Board, made up of elected International officers and local representatives, which is the policy-making body of the BCTGM between conventions.

There are six (6) administrative regions within the BCTGM structure. Each one of these regions has one or more International Vice Presidents, elected at the International convention, and a number of appointed International Representatives/Organizers who work with locals in negotiations, organizing and other activities.

There are two important documents that explain in detail the structure and function of both the local and International Union:the BCTGM Constitution and the Local Union Bylaws. These two documents spell out how decisions are made, who the officers are, and the rights and responsibilities of officers and members. Every union member is entitled to a copy of the Constitution and the Bylaws of the Local Union.

Dues

Members pay monthly dues to the union to support BCTGM programs and activities. How much members pay beyond the minimum is determined by a direct vote of the local union membership. Union publications, website and other communications with members, research and bargaining assistance, advice to locals, organizing and representing members are among the activities and services supported with union dues. Dues are divided between the local union and the International Union, with most of the money used directly by the local union. Each level of the union prepares annual financial reports. Those reports are regularly provided to Federal and Provincial authorities as required by law.

Dues money is not contributed directly to the campaigns of candidates for federal office. In the U.S., political contributions are made separately and voluntarily by members through BCTGM-PAC, the union's Political Action Committee. BCTGM-PAC funds are contributed to candidates who support working people and labor’s agenda, regardless of party.

Strikes

If a dispute with management over terms and conditions of employment cannot be amicably resolved, workers may have to strike to pressure management to settle the dispute. Strikes are not a common occurrence. Between 98 and 99 per cent of BCTGM contracts are settled without resort to a strike. Strikes over the renewal of a contract can only be called after a majority of union members vote to strike.

When a strike is voted on, the union seeks to mobilize all its resources to "win," or compel a settlement on favorable terms. An example is the strike which began in August, 2000 at The Earthgrains Company (now a subsidiary of Sara Lee).

For five years the union had tried to work with the company leadership in a formal Labor-Management Partnership to reverse the declining fortunes of the then second largest baking company in the US. While still a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch, worker representatives (through the BCTGM) joined with management representatives nationally and locally to introduce total quality management (TQM) methods in the Earthgrains bakeries.

The partnership survived the spinoff of Earthgrains as an independent company. However, as the company's fortune's improved, management became less interested in cooperating with the union and less responsive to workers' concerns. Plants were closed without attempting to turn them around through TQM, and the company threatened to move work to recently acquired non-union bakeries where management fought unionization efforts. Finally, that August, management's unresponsiveness led to the collapse of the Partnership. Approximately 680 BCTGM workers voted to strike against Earthgrains at a plant in Fort Payne, Alabama, the first to introduce the Partnership and TQM. A central motive of the strike was to protest mandatory overtime and few days off which were destroying family life and wearing workers down.[1]

BCTGM members at Earthgrains around the country stood in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Fort Payne and in defense of their own rights and quality of life. By August 31, 2000, the strike had spread to five other bakeries in Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee; Atlanta and Forest Park, Georgia; and Mobile, Alabama where worker contracts had expired. At this time, around 1,565 workers were involved.[2] By September 6, the strike had expanded to eight more plants. Around 2,700 workers were involved, a total of 12% of Earthgrains' workforce.[1] The strike eventually grew to a maximum of 27 bakeries before it was ended with the ratification of a new contract at Fort Payne on September 22.[3]

Through strike action, the union workers demonstrated their resolve, and compelled management to respect the quality of their family lives and health by limiting the amount of overtime workers could be forced to perform. As individuals, the workers would have had no chance of changing managements' policies. The company had shown that it was also not interested in addressing workers' concerns through the formal consultative processs established under the Partnership. In the end, only worker solidarity and industrial action organized by the union allowed the workers' voice to be heard.

References

External links

External references

  • Stuart B. Kaufman. Challenge & Change: The History of the Tobacco Workers International Union. University of Illinois Press. 1987. ISBN 0252014219.
  • Stuart B. Kaufman. A Vision of Unity: The History of the Bakery & Confectionery Workers International (Labor) Union. University of Illinois Press. 1987. ISBN 0252014235.
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