When a union unionizes

If you want to test a union leader's commitment to the labor movement, watch what happens when members of the union's staff attempt to form a union and the union itself becomes management.

In 2010, unions were still holding out hope that the Employee Free Choice Act wasn't entirely dead in the water. That act would have required employers to accept a union as their workforce's bargaining agent if the union could produce signed cards from a majority of a company's employees. The card-check method would bypass the normal election process -- the idea being that workers could avoid the frequent employer intimidation that comes with a union drive. Management groups objected, saying that absent elections, workers would be intimidated into joining unions.

That's the larger issue. Here's what happened at 1199C when the union's own organizers organized themselves into a union and presented union president Henry Nicholas with the appropriate number of signed cards. Nicholas, who counts Martin Luther King Jr. as a friend, and who has a long history with the civil rights movement and the labor movement, turned them down.

Leading the drive was John Hundzynski, an 1199C organizer. Nicholas said that before Hundzynski presented the cards, he had already asked for an election. "I'm not going to campaign against him," Nicholas said at the time. "If he wins, I'm ready to bargain expeditiously." 

The NLRB vote was held April 2, 2010, and the organizers won the right to form a collective bargaining unit by a vote of 17 to 2.

What happened next: The group quickly negotiated a three-year contract, Hundzynski said, with Nicholas suggesting that a raise by retroactive by eight months.

It turns out, Hundzynski said, that Nicholas' feelings were hurt that the organizers simply didn't come informally to him and ask. But Hundzynski, being an organizer himself, treated this campaign like all the others, with an assumption that hostility and pushback from management comes with the territory.

Informally, the organizers told me that they wanted to get a union in place just in case union management changes, a possibility given Nicholas' age, 76.

Flash forward to 2012. Hundzynski isn't even in the bargaining unit. Nicholas promoted him to head 1199C's nursing home division.

To read more, check out my Jobbing blog 

Monday: Jewish pharmacists in Harlem and a Philadelphia union 

Tuesday: Barack, Hillary and the Philadelphia labor movement

Wednesday: Succession planning union style, plus a profile of Chris Woods published in Wednesday's Inquirer.

Thursday: Union protest: Spectacularly strategic, or silly?