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A tale of two union representatives

(Or: Why I am a union representative)

For the past three years, I’ve been a union representative for NITO, the Norwegian Society of Engineers and Technologists. The story of my journey to becoming a union representative started back when I was an apprentice. Early on in my apprenticeship, I joined a union, as I felt that was a good idea, and also because I think trade unions are a good thing. For reasons that should soon become clear, I will not name that union.

As I neared the end of my apprenticeship, I found myself in a situation where I needed the help of my union. Contacting the local union representative, I was told that they wouldn’t help “contract workers”, and that I’d have to contact the union directly. Contacting the union directly, I was told that they did not handle individual members’ cases, and that I’d have to talk to my local representative.

Despite my telling them what the local union representative had told me, I was again refused help. In the end, I ended up cancelling my membership in the union; if they aren’t there for me when I need them, why should I want to pay them my hard-earned money?

Fast forward to 2012. My youngest daughter was born, I started studying with the Open University, and I once more joined a union – this time, I joined NITO. I benefited from the knowledge I got through being a member, and when the minister for health decided that my job was to be transferred to another company, my local union representative made sure to keep us informed and involved during all steps of that process.

The difference between those two union representatives should be obvious. One rejected me, and told me straight that they had no interest in helping me – forever poisoning that union in my mind, I might add. The other made sure to keep me informed, involved, and represented at each and every step of the way.

As a union representative, I’ve negotiated wages and local collective agreement. I’ve represented my union at conferences, in meetings with management and my individual members when they needed representation and advice. I am proud to be a union representative, and plan on continuing being one for years to come.

It should be said that I will happily offer advice and opinions to my colleagues regardless of whether they’re members of my union or not. That’s just being a good colleague, as far as I’m concerned. That said, I have far more resources to bring to bear for members of my union than I have for non-members.

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