Within just a year, one site attendant more than doubled union membership in his workplace, improved workplace standards and got many agency workers onto permanent contracts.
In late 2012, morale at the Swansea Waste Disposal Company was low. A number of workers were on zero-hours contracts, with low pay and little job security. Less than half the staff were Unite members, leaving the union with little negotiating power. And a change of company ownership on the horizon was causing concern about the future.
David Badger, a site attendant who had joined the company in 2007, was determined to speak up for his colleagues. He’d been a union rep in his previous workplace, and decided to step up again.
His first task was to grow the membership. David spoke to every colleague in person, patiently outlining what the union could offer. “I explained that there were many changes afoot and we needed to be unified to have the best negotiating position.”
In just over six months, David persuaded around 75 people to join – a phenomenal achievement. 99% of the site’s workforce were now union members.
Throughout, David made a point of maintaining a good relationship with management. That paid off, with managers seeing that having a union on site made for a more positive relationship with workers – particularly important during a phase of change.
The site’s general manager at the time says he noticed, “a big change in the level of enthusiasm and commitment from staff. Many of the best ideas we’ve had have come from the workers on the shop floor. For example, the idea of setting up a shop to sell items from the household recycling centre for re-use, which is now generating income”.
In 2013 the company won the PEEL People’s Cup, a UK-wide industry award for the operating team of a waste management facility. The judges praised the role played by staff in lifting standards at the site, saying, “The combined energy and enthusiasm generated within the team has had a clear impact on morale and it is now proud to serve the local community”.
Since then, David’s recruitment drive has continued – and he’s now signing up low paid workers across the council. The Unite branch at the council is now the third-biggest in Wales. The phenomenal achievement contributed to David being awarded a Badge of Merit for outstanding work for the trade union movement in 2014.
“We want to get the message out that we care about people and that Unite will fight for jobs and the rights of agency workers,” he says. “Together we can make a difference.”