By Brian Burgess:

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Branch 147

The old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” This was what came to mind recently when management gave a pep talk concerning participation in the Voice Of the Employee surveys.

It’s ironic that these surveys, while allegedly designed to promote better communication and a healthier workplace environment, have instead pointed up the distrust and rancor in labor-management relations.

Veteran carriers remember when the surveys asked, “Are you happy with what you are paid?” Management turned our positive responses around during contract negotiations, saying we were satisfied and therefore didn’t need or want pay increases. This led NALC President Vince Sombrotto to call for a boycott of future surveys until such time that the NALC had some input into the formulation of survey questions.

When confronted with this historical tidbit, most managers respond, “Yeah, it happened, but we don’t do that anymore.” Yet we continue to hear of managers who take discarded surveys and fill them out themselves, or try to exercise undue control over the survey process.

Our skepticism is fueled by other factors as well. Could this recent drive at promoting the surveys have anything to do with the upcoming contract negotiations?

Fool me once…

Management has also conveniently neglected to fully explain how our participation in the surveys affects their PFP bonus scores. It’s actually a small factor, but it does count. They also can’t explain why, if they really are concerned with improving the workplace environment, they scrapped a successful EI/QWL program in favor of throwing money at an outside agency (Price-Waterhouse).

NALC President Bill Young has modified the union’s stance on the surveys, stating that it will be up to the individual to decide whether or not to participate. No matter how many people choose to respond, the results can be suspect. Suppose thirty surveys are returned, with twenty-seven saying they like their bosses. Management will say that an overwhelming number of carriers like their bosses. In an office of two hundred employees, a response of thirty is pretty pathetic, yet management will consider it a mandate to continue what they do. That’s the problem with statistics of this sort.

So should you participate? It’s entirely up to you. Once that firstclass letter is handed to you, it is yours to do with as you wish. You can fill it out and put it in the provided tray. You can choose not to participate, and put it in the tray, hoping it will stay sealed and unaltered. You can bypass the provided tray and mail it yourself. You can take the letter and leave with it. It’s yours, and management cannot tell you what you can or cannot do with a letter addressed to you. It is not advisable to rip it to shreds right in front of the manager. That might get you labeled as a troublemaker. In that case it might be better to quietly take it home and introduce it to Mr. Shredder.

There’s no argument that the workplace environment needs improving. In the years that these VOE surveys have been around, things haven’t gotten any better. The Voice of the Employee seems to be “Shut up and do what you’re told.” When EI was scrapped, we lost a substantive process for positive change. We still don’t have any input in the formulation of the survey questions. Management can say all the nice things it wants about the surveys. Put lipstick on a pig and you’ll still have…a pig.

Fool me twice…
Until such time that management actually demonstrates, in meaningful and substantial ways, that they are genuinely concerned with improving the workplace and are truly interested in our input in helping to attain that goal, they can keep their empty rhetoric….and their surveys.