Here are some scenarios that are probably familiar to most UE Stewards:
- Harlan Parrot comes up to his steward. "I have a grievance. Jim Carey is always s------ up to the boss and getting all the overtime. I thought there was supposed to be equal overtime. What are you going to do about it?" or,
- Sheila approaches her steward one afternoon, "Hey, did you hear the company's asking people to work this Saturday in shipping? Pedro is still laid off from shipping. You've got to stop them from working."
Overtime can be both a blessing and a curse. There are times when a little extra money earned from working overtime helps out, but there are many problems associated with overtime. Many workers become dependent on the overtime money and fall into financial problems when there is no overtime to be worked. Employers try to use the distribution of overtime to cause divisions among workers and break up our solidarity. Then there is the ever growing problem of employers demanding mandatory overtime, forcing workers and their families to live their lives according to the boss' whims. In the service sector, especially among UE members who deal in human services, there is the problem of employees being expected to "work for free." Because these workers care for their clients or patients, they end up putting in extra time to work with them, but aren't paid.
UE's Position on Overtime
The Union's position on overtime is fairly simple but not always easy to implement in real life.
People should earn enough money for themselves and their families to live decently working 40 hours per week. In fact, UE Convention Delegates adopted a resolution calling for a shorter work week, with 40 hours pay. Other advanced industrial countries have already gone to a 37½ or even a 35 hour work week with no reduction in pay.
If overtime is worked it should be paid as follows:
- Time and one-half for working more than 8 hours per shift,
- Time and one-half for more than 40 hours per week,
- Time and one-half for all hours worked on Saturday,
- Double time for work on Sunday.
Overtime should be voluntary. In the rare cases of machines that cannot be shut down or patient care, any mandatory overtime when replacement workers do not show up, must be short.
The Original Purpose of Overtime Pay
Keep in mind how overtime pay came about. In the 1930's UE and other unions fought to get a law passed mandating time and one-half pay for all hours worked over 40 hour per week. The original purpose was to stop employers from working people overtime to make employers hire more workers. In the 1930's it was more expensive to pay time and one-half than to hire another worker.
Now, because unions have won many fringe benefits like pensions, health insurance, sick pay, vacations, etc., it is cheaper for an employer to pay overtime than it is to hire more workers.
The role of the UE Steward in dealing with overtime:
Many UE contracts have had to add sections that mandate the employer to distribute overtime equally and fairly. Depending on the skills involved and workplace traditions, the group of workers who are offered overtime will differ contract to contract.
The role of the Steward is to monitor whether or not the employer is following the rules. Many workplaces use overtime rosters. These keep track of when each worker was asked to work overtime, whether they worked or refused to work. In most places a worker who refuses to work (and was asked properly, in time, etc) is credited as if he/she had worked.
Stewards must remember that they have a right to see the overtime rosters to make sure they are being kept properly. If there is a dispute, a steward has the right to see time cards or payroll records.
Working Overtime While Members Are On Layoff
In some UE workplaces members have been able to win language that limits the employer's rights to work people overtime in the department or job classification that has members on layoff. Enforcing this is not always simple. Employers often insist on contract language that gives them the right to temporarily transfer employees and they use this language to try to violate the overtime language.
In these cases it is important for the steward and the members in the area affected to keep accurate records on how much overtime was worked and what kind of work was done. These must be accurate records - who worked, how long, what day, and what was done. Obviously this job must be done by more than just the steward. With accurate detailed information it is easier to make the case to the employer that someone should be recalled from layoff. Even if a grievance can't be won it provides good ammunition for negotiations.
The Steward must also remind members who are working overtime that they are hurting their fellow workers and could be hurting themselves in the future. Stewards should however steer clear of "ordering" someone not to work overtime. Appeal to their conscience, and let them make up their own mind.
Working For Free
There are cases where union members who work in human services end up spending all their "paid time" with their clients and then do the "paperwork" on their own time. When employers are notified of this they usually blame the workers, claiming they are too slow or aren't efficient enough to get all the work done in 8 hours.
Here again the role of the Steward is to carefully document how time is spent, in order to prove that more time is needed for patient/client care or that overtime is justified. This is easier to prove if it involves many workers, not just one. A big job of the steward is to get everyone to assist in documenting the problem.
The Steward must convince people that they are hurting themselves and their patients/clients when they work for free. The stress of added work with no pay eventually causes problems for even the most dedicated worker.
UE has always been against mandatory overtime but it does exist in some workplaces and employers keep trying to institute it.
Many UE contracts are silent on the issue, that is, the section on overtime just outlines how it is paid and how it is distributed. In these workplaces it is the past practice that rules.
It is very important that the Union and Stewards have good evidence that the past practice is voluntary. Stewards should keep copies of overtime rosters that show workers have refused overtime and not been disciplined for it. Grievances concerning overtime should be kept. If there are no records, then the Steward might want to keep his/her own records that show when and who refused overtime without discipline.
Any language the employer proposed during contract negotiations concerning mandatory overtime, which they did not win, should be kept, along with notes from the discussions.
Why Go Through All This Trouble?
Arbitrators are not good on this issue unless the union has good evidence. Arbitrators tend to think that if there isn't language forbidding mandatory overtime in a contract, then it might be a management right to institute it. What stops them from making this decision is plenty of concrete evidence that the past practice is No Mandatory Overtime!
As in most cases, it is best for the union to be prepared ahead of time, rather than wait for a problem to arise and then begin to collect the evidence.
In workplaces where the employer has the right to demand overtime in certain cases (emergency production, machines that cannot be shut down, patient care, etc) it is important for the union to document all the restrictions that have been won on limiting the use of mandatory overtime. Documenting the limited nature of this mandatory overtime helps to keep the employer from trying to extend its use.