Unions Give Workers a Voice

Working union means living better. For Local 2864 steward Carrie Notch, a death investigator with the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, that’s meant having a voice to protect workers and create change.
Working union means living better. For Local 2864 steward Carrie Notch, a death investigator with the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, that’s meant having a voice to protect workers and create change.

“Having a union voice has made a huge difference in our office. We unionized several years ago. We felt the employer was taking advantage of us as a group and making decisions that didn’t have our best interests in mind. We felt we needed something to help us and protect us.

The union sometimes is the only voice that holds the employer accountable. Prior to us becoming unionized, when management said something, that’s the way it was. Now, there’s no such thing as an unwritten rule. You’d better have that in the union contract and it better be clear, or guess what? It will be fought.

Take scheduling, for example. The office was going to take away our ability to bid on our schedule based on seniority. We ended up grieving it and getting that back.

As investigators, we have to maintain our certification. They were no longer going to pay to take the national exam. I got that negotiated into our labor contract.

Those of us who were training new employees, they weren’t paying extra for that. I got a shift differential for training.

I got a shift differential for lead pay, too. Say 10 new cases come in for the shift, and four are due for autopsy the next morning. It’s the lead person who’s in charge of making sure all four families have been notified, the bodies have been identified, X-rays have been ordered if needed. But they weren’t getting paid anything additional.

Management was trying to say when you’re not working, you’re on call; you couldn’t go out or go to parties or out of town. They were trying to control people’s lives outside of work. We fought that.

We’ve saved people from losing their jobs unjustly.

Like every department in the county, we have staffing issues. They can’t keep anybody there. We’re very short-staffed. But somebody has to be there to respond, you can’t close the Medical Examiner’s office.

They need to hire more employees, they need to get the proper staffing.

The supervisor decided he would put in place a mandatory OT policy. He claimed they were thinking about this mandatory overtime thing for quite some time.

We had just signed a three-year contract. If you’ve been thinking about this for a long time, it should have been brought to the table. This has a huge impact on your employees. You can’t do something like this without involving the union.

There were so many people against the union in our office at first. Now they’re all members except one. They’ve seen everything we’ve accomplished and everything the union has helped. It’s amazing. It’s made it a different workplace.

I work as the union steward because I believe in my coworkers, and I want them to be treated fairly, and I want management to be held accountable. The drive is so the new people don’t have to deal with some of the unjust things we had to when we first started.

I work the “dog watch,” the overnights. It’s either 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., or 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. I’m on call for all these other companies. I have two kids.

How do I juggle it? It’s tough. I’m tired all the time.

On the scene of a death, we take photos, interview family and witnesses, interview neighbors, collect evidence like drugs, weapons, suicide notes, ammunition, shell casings, things like that. Then we collect the body and anything pertaining to the death.

We come back to the office and write up our case. We process the body, take photographs, remove that person’s clothing, and prepare the body for autopsy.

This job is ever changing. Every case is different. It’s like putting a puzzle together: You have all these clues and you have to figure out what happened based on those clues. It’s not the glamorous stuff like you see on TV. It doesn’t come together so quickly, it’s not always easy.

You’re literally dealing with families when they’re at their worst. It’s emotional, it’s difficult. But it’s really rewarding to help families find answers to what has happened to their loved ones. I feel like I’m a good resource for them. I know that I’m helping them in the absolute worst time of their life.

You can be at a scene and have one or two other scenes waiting for you, but you can’t rush that family. They’re telling you how their father earned medals in the military. You can see the joy in how proud they are. I refuse to cut them short. That’s essential to their healing. I like hearing those stories. On the job, I’m seeing a different person, I’m seeing the end result. The stories puts the whole picture together for me.”