E tū delegate and print finisher, Lucky Sullivan, has been a union member at Wellington firm, Printlink for 19 years, ever since the union organiser urged him to join, saying the union would look out for him.
Sure enough, the union came through: “I joined when I was a casual and they actually got me a permanent job and I’m still here now.”
Now as the delegate, Lucky’s doing the recruiting: “You have to – to try and get our numbers up,”
Curiosity about the role of a delegate prompted him to put his name forward eight years ago: “I wanted to know what they did and I wanted to do something to help our workers,” he says.
Within a fortnight, he was involved in a disciplinary and typically gets called to represent workers about twice a month. Lucky says it’s hard work, but very rewarding and he’s discovered he loves industrial law.
“I like to help people, for example, people who can’t speak English properly – we have a few workers like that here. When they go into meetings, I make sure they understand what’s happening and get help if they need it and they’re really grateful. And I really like that.”
At Printlink, half the workforce are union members and some of Lucky’s workmates have queried the value of unions. “I say to them, join the union, they stand for us. If stuff happens, the union’s got your back.”
More recently, the union has helped negotiate redundancy, retraining and redeployment clauses in the employment agreement at Printlink, as digital printing technology reshapes jobs and, indeed, the whole print industry. Lucky is well aware of the implications.
“With offset printing, you need two people and now with digital, you only need one person. It’s less labour and the work’s a lot faster. We’ve got a lot of new digital equipment coming in and you only need half the staff.
“So, it’s in our contract. If you’re made redundant, the company will help you retrain, for example, to get your truck license. Because there’s not much work in our trade anymore.”
As Lucky looks to the future, he is considering putting his delegate leadership skills and training to good use and studying employment law. He says there’s no doubt his union work has given him valued experience and confidence: “It’s helped me quite a lot and I do recommend people take the training that’s there.
“I enjoy the law stuff, just learning more about what our rights are, and I thought about putting more study into it, and if I finish here, I might carry on with employment law.”
Meanwhile, Lucky is celebrating the election of a Labour-led Government. “We needed it because of all the laws National brought in, they weren’t for the workers. They were for the bosses, so we needed a change because we were pretty much getting smashed really.”
He says politics is now a hot topic on smoko breaks. His workmates who voted National last time all voted Labour this time around, so there’s been a clear change of attitude.
Lucky has also earned a position as a trusted union voice in his workplace.
“I trust the union and my workers trust me. They trust me because I’m still in the union and they trust what I tell them. They come and ask me about it and you just wait until that moment when they join and make us stronger.”