Union non-activist converts to a union activist
By DEBORAH A. MILES
In almost every state agency or department, you will find people who are true unionists, others who are indifferent and some who are basically anti-union. When someone such as Charles Browning, who called himself a scab and detested unions for a long time, becomes a PEF activist, it makes you think about the deep value of union membership.
Browning, a senior attorney at the state Insurance Fund, along with other PEF members experienced a highly agitated and toxic work environment when a new business manager entered the scene. They received unsatisfactory evaluations on their 10-year spotless records, but all were changed to satisfactory on appeal. Browning and others were subjected to allegations ranging from inserting a razor blade in a car tire to physically slamming other employees in hallways and elevators. For more than three months, one of the targeted female employees was required to email her male supervisor every time she used the restroom.
Browning was suspended and subsequently transferred to another office, which was a 75-mile-one-way commute, due to an unfounded allegation made by a non-PEF co-worker. The allegation was brought to arbitration and the Notice of Discipline was dismissed. Browning was fully exonerated and immediately returned to his usual work location. In that precedent-setting arbitration decision, he was awarded a substantial sum of money for his 18 months of travel, paid-in-full by the agency.
Things started to change when Kathy Czachorowski became the Division 240 council leader.
“Kathy is active, interested and aggressive, and so are the other council members,” Browning said. “They truly want to do things to help their members.”
Czachorowski said one of the keys to member engagement is two-way communication, and disseminating information to members on a regular basis.
“Charlie’s issues are now being heard, and his suggestions are being considered. He has great opinions and the interaction widens the entire council. We discuss things as a team.
“We just don’t take no for an answer anymore, even if a PEF field representative disagrees with us on an issue. When we want to push something forward, we banter it to death, and at times we get the result we want,” Czachorowski said.
She also noted PEF played a role in getting the unsatisfactory evaluations overturned.
“PEF’s statewide labor-management committee agreed to form an evaluation appeals committee. Names were gathered that consisted of one manager, one PEF steward and one neutral person. All the unsatisfactory evaluations were overturned.”
Now that things have taken a positive turn, Browning said he has fostered a professional and complimentary working relationship with field representatives such as John Pollack.
“We have learned from each other,” Browning said. “I am surprised at myself, given how I felt about unions especially in the 1970s. Now my advice to people is to become involved with your union. It is for your own benefit. Union involvement is not just what it can do for you personally, but how it can help your fellow union members, too. Like anything worthwhile, it is truly about working together.”