Jake O’Malley

Three steps to building a strong union

Jake O’Malley is lead rep at Amey PLC in Sheffield, a company that’s been contracted to maintain the city’s roads, pavements, street lights and highway trees. He became active in his union, GMB, in 2015 and has since recruited hundreds of members and led several campaigns for fair pay and better terms. No wonder he won the TUC Youth Award in 2016. Here’s the secret to his success.

Take the first step

It all started when a few of us lads found out about a pay discrepancy between different workers. Same job, different pay. When I complained and Amey didn’t resolve the issue, I didn’t really know what to do. So I went down to the GMB offices in Sheffield and left with a box of forms. Back at work I signed up about 40 guys straight away.

After that, I was learning how to be a union rep ‘on the job’. GMB’s support was invaluable – they trained and mentored me and my team. Eventually, after lots of meetings and action – including two days’ strike – we came out victorious. Everyone is in the right pay band now, which means they get paid fairly.

Connect with your members

The problem was that people had lost faith in unions, they’d become disconnected from the organisations that were there to represent them. I wanted to change that. I make sure all our members are engaged. We have regular meetings and I seek out their opinions.

Fast forward two years, and 80% of the workforce here at Amey in Sheffield are GMB members – that’s up from 55 members to about 300 people. 13% are women, 9% are young people. We have a full team of union reps. There’s an amazing vibe of trade unionism in our workplace, and it’s only getting stronger.

Believe in the movement

My grandfather worked at a power station, so I grew up knowing about unions and the labour movement. But doing it for myself is something new. I was elected to represent and to lead all these people. It’s daunting, but it matters so much.

The campaigns we’ve run on this depot, we’ve won. That includes a pay restructure across the board, but it’s not just pay we’re fighting for. For example, the company promised electrical apprentices a certain level of qualification, but failed to deliver. That changed after we got involved, and now they finish as fully qualified electricians.

We’ve had two days of strike in two years. We’ve stopped redundancies, we’ve reduced pay disparity and we’ve improved terms and conditions. For me, standing shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues – there’s nothing like it. That’s what being in a union is all about. That’s what makes me believe. We’re here for each other – no-one has to stand alone.

Unions are as important today as they’ve ever been – maybe even more so.