A Day In The Life Of A Labor Rep

People often ask me what I do for a living. When my response is “I’m a Labor Representative,” it can be met by a look of confusion. I then go on to explain…

“Every employee in the City of Los Angeles belongs to a Union. For the employees in my Union, I enforce their contracts, represent them in grievances and defend them when they’re being terminated or disciplined.”

That response is either met by a glimpse of interest, OR a statement like “I thought city employees didn’t get fired?” OR, I get the same look of confusion I got when the conversation first started. The truth of the matter is…..a City employee can be terminated, but that’ll be another article.

The role of a Labor representative can often evolve into a friend, a confidante, an investigator, a last hope, and to some, a foe.


But true… ask Management… or a member who didn’t get the answer they hoped for as depicted in this fictional (or is it????) conversation that can be typical in:

“A Day in the Life of a Labor Rep”

[Phone conversation with member]

CALLER: Union!!!!!! I need your help.
You called the right place. What’s the problem?

CALLER: My supervisor makes my job impossible, makes everyone miserable at work, knows nothing about the job and shouldn’t have been chosen for the position! Something MUST be done about it.
LABOR REP: I sense your frustration, but I need more information. How does he/she make your job impossible?

CALLER: It’s a SHE. And SHE’S constantly kicking my work back because she doesn’t understand how we do things around here and wants different formats on everything! We’ve used these formats for 10 years and she’s been here 2 months and is changing everything! She also wants us to start signing in when we arrive, when we go to lunch AND when we leave. Other supervisors in the Department don’t have sign in sheets. I’ve asked around.
LABOR REP: When you say she knows nothing about the job, is it resulting in her giving you assignments that she should be completing herself?

CALLER: Well, no. I can’t do her work, but she doesn’t know anything about the program we run. She asks me for simple things like how to run a query from our database. A supervisor should know that!

These calls are often difficult to handle. It’s clear the employee is unhappy with the current organization at work. It’s at this point that I have to explain to members that Management has the right to mismanage.

Yes, you read that correctly and I know it sounds horrible; but it’s true.

Although we like to think that the City hires only the best and brightest into supervisory and management positions, truth be told… the smartest or the most experienced person doesn’t always get the promotion and management has the right to that choice (aka “mismanage their organization”).

Now, if in their mismanagement, they violate the contract, city policy, charter, civil service rules, etc. THEN we can take action. If SHE starts assigning you work outside of your classification, we’re in. If she reprimands you publicly or uses abusive /offensive language, we’re in. If she makes changes to working conditions, we’re SOOOO in.

CALLER: What about the sign in sheet? That’s a change. She can’t do that right?

Let’s think about this one. Yes, it’s a change and yes, it can be considered a working condition (she’s now requiring you to do it and if you don’t, you can be disciplined). The Union should jump on this… right??? Right??

No…. and yes.

It is a change and we acknowledge that. Technically, we can demand that management meet with us first before implementing the sign in sheet so that we can negotiate over the practical consequences to the employee. We’ll argue that you’re not children. They’ll argue it’s a means to ensure they follow FLSA rules, which they’re legally required to do. We’ll argue that you’re not children. We don’t have much beyond that.

Employees are required to accurately record their working hours whether it be in a system (like PAYSR), on a time card, or on a sign in sheet. Employers have the right to require that employees accurately record their time. What grounds does the union have to argue that employees shouldn’t sign in? All employees are expected to be honest and accurate about hours worked.  So although we can meet and negotiate over this, it’s not a case we would win.

On the other hand, if this new supervisor changes the unit’s hours of operation, which results in a change of working hours to the employees in the unit, then we have an argument. A member structures their life around working hours.

For example, a member picks up his child at 3 pm every day. If he now has to work until 5 p.m., he must find other means for child pick up or may have to pay for childcare, which are real and practical consequence to the employee. See the difference?

This scenario is a general depiction for entertainment and informational purposes. You should NEVER hesitate to contact your Labor Rep with any questions for specific situations, as every case differs based on a number of factors.

Until next time, feel free to send me questions and/or topics you’re interested in reading about. No topic is off limits because more likely than not, I’ve dealt with it in a day in my life as a Labor Rep.

– Marleen Fonseca, Sr. Labor Representative