May 2018 Solidarity Now!

A Former IU Clerical Worker Transforms Into Union Organizer, Plus
Liz Feitl was a former IU clerical worker (now called support staff) who worked for IU for nearly 12 years in various departments: Real Estate Certification Program (now through the Kelley School of Business); the Finance Department in what is now the KSOB; Religious Studies Department, and Psychology Department and Clinic (now the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences) in the College of Arts and Sciences. During her time while working in Religious Studies she became involved with the CWA organizing drive and soon found herself assuming a co-chair role.

Here is her story:
With the help of CWA International and District 4 (who hired sister local 4818 members to assist with the organizing drive—that’s how CWA does organizing) we put together a monthly printed newsletter and delivered it to all campus staff at their desks/departments, where we would find out what the issues were for each person/area, and report back to the organizing committee to put together the next month’s newsletter. This hand delivery was needed since CWA was not allowed to use IU campus mail. It was really a great organizing tool: something in your hand to pass out to break the ice to begin finding out what the issues were for each person.

Some may remember that Elvis (Presley) was a major theme during this organizing drive and here are a few pictures to show some of the fun we had with that: a “mail your ballot rally” where Elvis passed out his famous red scarves to attendees, Photo 1; billboards placed around four corners of the community, reminding workers it was “Now or Never”, Photo 2; and Elvis entering the victory party, Photo 3. There was lots of support at the victory party, since we didn’t know for sure if we would win the election to have a union on campus or not—just couldn’t get a good enough assessment to know for sure. So, many district and international union officials came in to support us either way on the day of the election count. It was great to have them all there and be a part of such a victory -50% +1—an absolute majority, unheard of in most elections. The most interesting thing I remember from Elvis was his getting thrown out of Franklin Hall—even though it was/is a public building. That was reported and corrected very quickly.

One of the biggest accomplishments in my mind by having won union recognition was that no staff member would ever have to be called into a disciplinary meeting again alone. Plus, during the beginning years, a two-year US Department of Labor investigation took place based on two violations (desk top overtime and misclassification). Basically staff had been asked to keep track of their overtime on their desk top calendars. But when those same staff members would take another job in a different department, the original department didn’t want to pay out the overtime, nor did the new department want to pay for something they didn’t encumber. That was remedied and numerous employees were rightfully paid for the overtime as a result. The second part of the investigation was because some employees had been promoted to professional staff without the job itself meriting the classification. So, that was corrected as well: no one who had this happen lost anything, but when that person left the position, it was correctly reclassified. At the time the Department of Labor had a seven part test to determine if a job was exempt (from being paid for overtime) or non-exempt (must be paid for overtime, either with compensatory time off or pay). That has changed, but there is still a test to determine eligibility. All paid work in the US is either exempt or non-exempt.

As the organizing campaign was winding down, I needed to work part time (due to a child care situation) but that was not possible. CWA learned about this and they offered me a chance to finish working on the organizing campaign—this certainly changed my life. Bargaining began after recognition and CWA collected no dues during this period and continue to hire me to work for the soon-to-be Local. Then when the Local ratified their first contract, dues began to be collected and the Local wanted someone to continue to assist and I stayed in that position as the Local staff representative for 9 years, a couple of terms as Vice President and one as President. That was work I still reflect on fondly to this day. And, in my current role as the AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison with United Way of Monroe County (for more than 15 years), I’m still a CWA Local 4730 proud union member and stay connected with the local as much as I can, serving as a sounding board on issues that still arise.

Editor’s note: On March 21, 2018, Liz Feitl was presented with one of the two Toby Strout Lifetime Contribution Awards at the 33rd Annual Luncheon honoring Women’s History Month held at the Bloomington-Monroe County Convention Center. It was noted that she not only has been an active member of the Bloomington Rotary Club for 13 years, and serves on several boards including United Way of Monroe County, but also continues her work with the labor movement through the South-Central Jobs with Justice and Southern Indiana Labor Relations Council. Local SILRC Chapter President Jackie Yenna said, “Liz has been a very hard worker in helping with the labor movement and those in the community. With her years of work and service to the community, she is well deserving of this award.”