The Guam Federation of Teachers is eyeing private sector employees of daycare centers and kindergartens and medical clinic employees as the next groups it wants to unionize.
Fresh from negotiating a health care plan for members through PacifiCare Asia Pacific the Guam Federation of Teachers will offer membership — and the same health care deal — to those employees.
Matt Rector president of the union — Local 1581 of the American Federation of Teachers — told the Journal “We’re ramping up right now — we’re about ready to unionize daycares. We’re expanding into the private sector in the health care field and the education field and we think our health insurance products are really going to help us improve the quality of life for folks in the private sector.”
Rector said of the approximately 100 daycare centers on Guam “There are some with as little as two employees and some with as many as 20 employees.” The union plans to bring the day care centers into the fold one by one. “If we go in and pass cards and the employees by a card check say ‘We want to be part of the union ’ and management says OK and accepts the card check it happens that quick.”
To represent a bargaining unit union membership numbers must equal at least 50% plus one of the employees. “When you get 50% plus one of the cards management can say ‘OK — they want to be unionized let’s sit down and negotiate a contract.’ Or they can try and fight it and say ‘No we’re not going to accept a union; we’re going to fight it all we can.’” Under those circumstances Rector said the National Labor Relations Board would send representation to Guam to hold an election. “For a small shop you can do that by mail and it would happen fairly quickly ” Rector said.
There are about 47 medical and dental clinics on-island according to the 2003 Guam Business Marianas Medical Directory with an additional 238 dentists physicians and health care providers listed employing at least one or two employees. Rector said “There’s lots of private health care agencies and private clinics on Guam and we would like to go in and organize the nurses in these clinics. For them — just like the daycare workers — not only is the health insurance a big benefit for them but the million-dollar liability insurance that we offer is a huge benefit ” Rector said. The union also offers professional liability.
Some GFT members at Guam Memorial Hospital also worked in the private sector he said. “They carry their insurance with them as they go.”
Simon A. Sanchez II general manager of Guam Dry Cleaners and executive director of the Committee to Get Guam Working said small businesses requiring health insurance was a recognized sector. “It’s an interesting niche. GFT will also join those other organizations finding ways to do it and that’s a great goal. It’s been looked at by the chamber and by the Chinese community.
“From an insurance point of view you still have to look at risk and the pool of players for that risk. Matt is not doing anything new. Lots of organizations have tried to deal with this problem. It’s easy to find customers. The challenge is to get insurance at a price people are willing to pay.”
The PacifiCare Asia Pacific plan offered to union members Rector said would likely appeal to small business management as a benefit to offer workers. “I have lots of friends who are smallbusiness owners. They just can’t afford to offer their employees health insurance and remain competitive in Guam’s market.”
“The Committee to Get Guam Working has really worked really hard at being anti-union making this a right to work territory ” Rector said. That’s a real shame. If you look at the statistics in the states right-to-work states have the worst health care lower test scores poor schools lower standards of living — the numbers tell the story.”
Sanchez said “That’s typical union propaganda.” He said statistics could also be produced to prove the opposite. “The union is making up excuses because it can’t convince individual employees to join a union. The bottom line is the number of people joining unions is falling and continuing to fall. Not every teacher joins the union. Right to Work wasn’t passed until the 25th Guam Legislature. What’s the GFT’s excuse prior to that? During the boom years of tourism unions failed to organize labor in hotels.” Sanchez said generally management and employees have formed relationships where employers offered better conditions and benefits to retain employees and employees gravitated to those employers that offered better working conditions. “That’s why The Employers Council was formulated to advise management on those issues.”
About 70% of the work force worked in the private sector and that percentage was growing as the size of government declined. Sanchez said “There are some great companies with unions in the private sector and some great companies without unions.” He said as companies had over the years offered better conditions and benefits “in some respect unions have become victims of their own success.”
Rector said generally management wanted to offer health care to employees. “They want healthy employees. These people put their kids in daycare too. They would like the people who are taking care of their children for eight hours a day to get a yearly physical. They would like them to be able to go to the doctor when they’re sick.” GFT members are offered free tuberculosis testing annually. Rector said proposed CPR training through the union would be more likely as daycare members joined.
Rector said the GFT could also offer training. “We can offer training through our educational research insemination program. Our national union has programs to train early childhood workers because we represent them all across the nation. We can train them get them certified so they are better daycare workers.”
Daycare centers with members would be advertised in the GFT News Rector said. “They’ll be on our list they’ll be on our Web site so our members who also use daycare will go to a union daycare. That’s over 1 200 working families that will be looking to put their kids in daycare where they know folks have health insurance and where they know where the workers are trained and certified.” Clinics would receive the same recommendations he said.
The union would work with the companies on issues he said.
Rector said liability insurance would be a protection for management at daycare centers for instance. “If a parent wants to sue the daycare they’re going to go after the people with the million-dollar insurance cover. They’re not going to go after the poor guy who’s going to have to declare bankruptcy against the claim. Our liability insurance would actually cover their business in many ways.”
Besides Department of Education employees GFT represents the eligibility specialists at the Department of Public Health the bus drivers at the Department of Public Works and nurses at Guam Memorial Hospital. “We’re working really hard to bring some other agencies onboard. Any non-management employee of GovGuam can walk in our doors and sign up to be a member of GFT.”
The union is presently signing up members to represent units within two government agencies one of six employees the other with 168 eligible members which might be broken up into shops.
About 200 members of the federation’s membership of 1 200 dues-paying members signed up for the PacifiCare offering despite the union’s expectations of more than 1 000. Rector anticipated GovGuam membership of the PacifiCare plan would rise as uncertainties over legalities were ironed out.
The union represents about 5 000 employees and Rector said membership fluctuated. About 500 teachers left the Department of Education at the end of the previous academic year including retirees. Rector said “We really had to hustle to replace them.” He said membership had seen steady growth since the beginning of the 2004-2005 academic year and was considering a name change to reflect a broader composition. Membership cost is on a sliding scale depending on income. “Generally it works out to about dollar a day — about the price of a cup of coffee. If you take into account the benefits you’re actually saving money by being a member.”
Member discounts include American Federation of Teachers offerings and those through AM Insurance First Hawaiian Bank Marianas Variety News & Views Moylan’s Insurance Underwriters and Today’s Realty. GFT is close to arrangements with a petroleum company an airline and a Guam-based charter airline for flights to the United States for approximately $800 coach. Discount partners of the union also advertise in GFT News as part of the contract.
He said future plans include a clinic for GFT members with support from the national level of the union. “We’ve talked about it. They’re willing to invest the money it would take to do it.”
Sanchez said “The GFT is like any organization that wants to grow. You can’t fault them for that. Let’s not forget a union is a business and needs to find money to pay for their costs. They’re trying to get customers like any other business. But don’t blame falling enrollment on everyone else. They should look within themselves.”
The GFT will be 40 years old in 2005 and has seven employees. Of an annual budget of about $500 000 in fiscal 2004 about $40 000 went to legal fees to represent members. Rector began teaching in 1991 joined the union in 1994 and became a steward shortly afterward. He is a chemistry teacher has been at John F. Kennedy High School for ten years and is a graduate of the University of California in San Diego. MBJ