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Orlando Benavídez: “There are two types of delegates, those who work and those who bum around”

Orlando Benavídez has been working for 20 years as a union representative. In 2011, after a decade as a representative of the workers for a broiler producer, the company closed down as a consequence of the economic crisis. After two years of intensive job seeking, Benavídez started working as a stocker for a Bread manufacturer located in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and most part of the last ten years, he has been one of the union representatives from the sales channel. Currently, he is working for the Union of Food Industry Workers (its initials in Spanish STIA) and, although he is no longer working for the bread company, he continues his activities as a representative of said company, keeping in touch with his ex-workmates. Negocios & Management had the chance to have an interesting conversation about his thoughts on the role of a union representative and his life experience that we share with our readers.

By Cecilia Bourdillon for NEGOCIOS & MANAGEMENT.

 

N&M: How did you join the company?

O.Benavídez: The world of stocker is, at this moment, highly related to employment issues, there are many companies who form part of the market and we all quite know each other.

We are a big family, although Buenos Aires is huge, because today you can work in one zone and tomorrow in another one. In the past, companies spent some money with the purpose of improving workers’ performance at work. For example, I joined the company after passing a training course for sellers which was created in Mexico. Passing the course was a condition to join the company. When I started working, there were 10 vacancies and 150 people applied for the position.

 

N&M: How was the recruitment process to join the bread company?

O. Benavídez: We had to do a pre-course in which they analyzed the profiles. After that, we were treated as one of them, as we were working for them. Then, we took the real course which lasted a week. From this course, mainly supervisors and even one guy with corporate profile were chosen. This was the last course the company did because, after that, they started to hire personnel through a personnel agency, where new employees became effective after three months of work.

 

N&M: Is there a number of union representatives in proportion to a certain number of employees?

O.Benavídez: In the bread manufacturer, there are three union representatives from the sales channel but it may vary. It is provided in a specific way in the collective bargaining agreement of the food union, but other agreements vary depending on what activity they refer to. According to our agreement, there are two union representatives when there are no more than 50 employees per company. If there are from 50 to 101 employees, there are three union representatives. If the number exceeds the latter, there are four or five.

We have changed the provision sets forth in the Law of Professional Associations, which fixes one union representative per 100 employees.

 

N&M: Which are the functions of a union representative?

O.Benavídez: The main function is to know how to listen to, never say yes, and always say I will try, as a golden rule. The first thing is precaution; we should support the problem, firstly as a person and then as a worker.

Imagine that a female stocker has a specific problem. Firstly, I have to check who supervises that employee. Then, I have to talk to the Human Resources Manager to describe the problem. Let’s imagine that the girl arrived late two successive days and the company wants to suspend her for three days. What I have to do as a union representative is to check what happened. After I’ve done so, I can sit down with the manager and give my arguments. The talk would be: – Look, it’s true, the girl arrived late but last Saturday, the day that we have more sales, she did a 2-hour overtime.

Therefore, at this point, policy and common sense take place and, as a consequence of this, the manager tells me -Well, try to make her arrive on time and this will only result in a report without suspended days. This happens in companies which have union representatives. In those companies who don’t have them, this can result in four or five days of suspension, or in a dismissal.

 

N&M: Which skills are required to be a union representative?

O.Benavídez: I believe that the main value you should have is justice. There are two profiles or visions, the employer’s one and the worker’s one, and there will always be in parallel lines, they never get united. This is the common situation.

 

N&M: Which competences, skills and knowledge does an employee need to become a union representative?

O.Benavídez: Firstly, you need to know the collective bargaining agreement; secondly, you need to know how to listen to, and lastly, you need to know to behave yourself with extreme moderation and responsibility. There are many people who become union representatives and believe they can do whatever they want. You need political skills, to know when and how to act, to have the desire and vocation to defend your workmates in order to consider the seriousness of the problem. You need to have a clear understanding of your workmate’s requests in order to work on it and talk with him/her, the supervisor and the company owner.

There are factories where you have to knock the door to talk to the bosses and there are others where that is not necessary. In my case, I know that I call the manager and they answer my call, but, four years ago, manners and relationships were different. If you are a quiet person, you’ll see examples and you’ll follow the good one. If you take effective actions, you’ll get more rewards than wrong actions.

 

N&M: How would you define the relationship between hierarchical positions and union representatives?

O.Benavídez: I like to open doors, search for solutions and try not to generate problems. We have succeeded in getting a better collective bargaining agreement for the company and I don’t know if there is an agreement like this one in the food industry. If you work well, you’ll become a consultation person. If you have a bad relationship, the bosses take decisions on their own, but when there are union representatives who give their opinion or know about the work, they consult them to see how to deal with problems from another viewpoint. There is more “feeling” and, although the company takes the final decision, they know that suggestions will never damage them but you will know to take your position from another viewpoint and this leads to better results. It is good to manage the human factor and see it from a different angle, other than the corporate one.

 

N&M: If you were a company owner and sought for a higher profitability in your business, which actions would you take in relation to union issues?

O.Benavídez: First of all, I would generate trust in people who work with me. The only way to do so is taking courses and making my employees benefit from that, as this is the way we can improve our daily work. First, I would invest in personnel to obtain benefits. In labour terms, it is the other way round of making a sale. For example, I go shopping for chocolates, I make an investment to sell them later and make a profit. In labor terms, companies generally seek for profits without making investments and this is a problem. Most of the companies see their employees as a number and that is a mistake because a trained person sells the double. You have to pay them a bit more but they sell more and generate more money, this is associated to profitability. The important thing is having the best personnel and the only way to get so is by providing all of the resources you have, and that includes the salaries.

 

 

N&M: How should we act in conflicting situations?

O.Benavídez: I remember once they had to fire ten people and it is complicated to inform the decision to the employee before discussing money issues. These issues are quite delicate. Let’s suppose that you are fired and you have to discuss money issues. I always inform it without discussing the details. At the beginning, those who were fired didn’t want to leave the company; however, when the amount is informed (the compensation amount), everybody accepted it. Our work there, as union representatives, was trying to put them back on the payroll, but then they told me that they would accept the dismissal; the problem was solved with money in their pockets.

Very few people are capable of keeping their work position. When there is an impressive amount, they sign, take the check and that is all. And then we have no more arguments. The point is that you’ll meet them again later and they are worse than they would have been if they had remained working for the company.

 

N&M: Which satisfactions have you obtained from your union representative role?

O.Benavídez: There are some cons but it is satisfactory to help someone, this brings many good things. Luckily, after years of being in the company, employees have learnt to be sympathetic. We had a situation with some children who suffered from growth impairment and they had to pay bills amounting to 15000 Argentine Pesos approximately, and the company covered these expenses and dealt with other issues. These things form you as a person, they do not only form me but also the boss who is usually considered to be a cold person that is always at the office. In these cases, we are grateful, and the worker returns the favor by working harder.

 

N&M: If you had to talk to someone who is not sure of being a union representative, what would you say?

O.Benavídez: The first thing I would say is that they should be informed. You need to know the origins because, otherwise, you won’t understand what happens. We have a saying which is “there are two types of union representatives, those who work and those who bum around”. The one who works will always be available to deal with problems, imagine that when there is a problem with the working hours in a factory, it may result in an employee suspended or fired.

You need to be informed at that moment. If you are sleeping at home, you will learn about it three days later. When you get there, you cannot turn the clock back; it is volunteering work.

The best advice you can give to a person who starts to work as union representative is a description of all possible paths. Before becoming a union representative, there is a learning stage, in which you observe and learn how things are.

No matter if you read and show interest, there is something which is crystal clear and it is that leaders are natural, in a small or big group, in the management or supervising areas. A leader is a person who takes the initiative, the one who has ideas, whether they are wrong or not.

A person becomes a union representative for vocation. The main thing is to be eager to defend the workmates; you will learn the other things over the time. The ultimate thing is the desire and eagerness to defend the interests of professional and work partners. A union representative must always give the example.

 

 

 

From NEGOCIOS & MANAGEMENT, we thank Orlando Benavidez for sharing his background and experience as a union delegate, and we thank Cecilia Bourdillon for her further participation in this section.

 

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