I have been a lawyer and a consultant for small businesses for decades, and at no time during that period could anyone accuse
me of being a champion of labor unions. I'm no lover of big government either, but that doesn't mean that I don't see an important
role in our society for both government and labor organization—each has positive attributes that the private sector and small
business can learn from.
One admirable characteristic of both effective government and honest collective bargaining is that they tend to elicit transparency.
If it weren't for the government, employers would not be required to inform their employees of their rights under the workers'
compensation and disability laws. And organized labor has helped force large-scale employers to provide critical information
about workplace health risks to their workers. The best disinfectant is sunshine, and there are many examples where openness
has proved to be beneficial to both public and private employees.
I am reminded of the benefits of workplace transparency every year in early September when my wife heads back to her job as
a reading teacher at a local public school. On the first day, after a brief get-together with new faculty and staff members
over doughnuts and coffee, all the teachers are called into the auditorium to listen to a presentation by the teachers union
as to the status of salary and benefit negotiations, workplace hazards such as construction or ongoing asbestos mitigation,
and so on. They even explain chapter and verse how the state pension works and how they calculate seniority.
Let the sunshine in: The best disinfectant is sunshine—which is why it's in the best interests of owners to be forthcoming
with information for associates.
What can we non-union veterinary folks learn from public and union employees and their efforts? We can see that the key to
fairness in the workplace is the disclosure of information critical to employees—in other words, transparency. So what sort
of information can organized labor count on that may be hidden (or unintentionally withheld) in the veterinary workplace?
All sorts. Here are a couple of anecdotes to make the point:
In a recent veterinary associate contract negotiation my office was involved in, the employer offered no details about the
health insurance coverage called for by the contract. The agreement merely said that there would be coverage. The associate
didn't think much about the fact that the practice owner didn't provide insurance information. I asked, "Is the carrier Blue
Cross of Bob's Health Insurance and HMO Company?" The associate didn't know. "Is your domestic partner covered?" Well, he
hadn't thought about that. "If you don't pass the physical and can't get coverage—trust me it happens—do you get added compensation
to seek your own coverage in lieu of the employer's policy?" The associate didn't know that could be an issue. My position
is that because health insurance can value up to 20 percent of an actual salary, the employer should provide coverage details
so an associate candidate can make an educated decision about whether to take the job.