How to correctly work with bleach and unions

Milwaukee Public School Teachers. Photo courtesy of Charles Edward Miller.

I know you’re terrified to use bleach on your clothing. You probably destroyed a cherished garment a decade ago. Never again, you said. But bleach damage is a result of using bleach incorrectly. And if you follow the instructions, bleach can overwhelmingly improve the value of your wardrobe. Let me explain.

Instructions say use one cup of bleach for a single full load of laundry in a large or high-efficiency washer. If washing a half-load of laundry, scale down to half a cup of bleach. You need a measuring cup that you only use on bleach. Pour the bleach into the receptacle that says “bleach only” at the beginning of the load. Do not throw it in on top of the dry clothes. Don’t use Oxy-Clean in the same load, as chlorine bleach and Oxy-Clean cancel each other out. Then add your other detergent, press go, and that’s it. Now you “know how to use bleach.”

People Fear Bleach For Nonsensical Reasons

The 400-page book Laundry by Cheryl Mendelson – which is a delightful read – spells out a number of misconceptions of bleach. Garment labels are required by law to give instructions on how to wash clothing while causing no damage to the garment whatsoever. To prevent lawsuits, instructions are overly-restrictive in a practice called over-labelling. The most common type of over-labelling is to prescribe non-chlorine bleach (e.g. Oxy-Clean) or that you use no bleach whatsoever. I only obey this instruction with dark garments. Loads of whites, greys, or colours are all made better by bleach.

Concern about damaging garments is misplaced even if it were true that garments are harmed. Consider if bleach damaged your garment by 1%, which is enough to mandate prohibitive labelling. If you only bleached the garment three times ever, you will have lost 3% of the garment’s quality. Compare this outcome to the effect of ugly stains that prevent you from wearing a garment. In that case, the damage is 100% because you are avoiding the use of bleach. Not using bleach is, in this case, far more damaging as using bleach regularly. If you destroy the garment, you are no further behind, because it was destined for the garbage in the first place. There is no downside to destroying a garment with bleach, if you were never going to wear the garment because of a stain. So move on with your life and put bleach to its proper use.

Bleach and Industrial Relations

A lot of managers and human resources professionals are perplexed and intimidated about how to deal with unions. This looks strange to those experienced with unions because, although some things are complex, the basics are extremely simple. When you are dealing with a labour relations puzzle the first question is almost always; “what does the collective agreement say?”

This is where things go completely sideways for a lot of people. First, there are people who did not personally sign the collective agreement, who wonder why they are bound by it. But they don’t question invoices from utility providers, contracts with clients, or precautions imposed by risk management. Only the contract with the union faces this faux-bewilderment for which the acting quality is well below community theatre. Questioning the basic legitimacy of the collective agreement says more about the questioner than it says about unions.

Admit it, you’re only pretending to dislike unions in order to curry favour with someone powerful. But real executives think that a deal is a deal and that unions are simply one of their many bargaining partners. Move on.

The second challenge is those collective agreements are a type of instruction manual. A large percentage of the population never reads instruction manuals. Consider how many times you retrieve a box from the garbage so you can read, then re-read, the instructions to heat a frozen meal. It ought to be embarrassing but instead, we have hip internet memes where we all get to laugh at ourselves, collectively, that we can’t read instructions. But it’s not ha-ha funny. We’re laughing at how stupid we are, collectively. Safety in numbers. But if you want to get the job done, stop laughing. The union isn’t laughing. Instruction manuals aren’t funny.

In brief, if you are a manager in a unionized environment and there is nothing in the legislation or the collective agreement that inhibits your use of power, according to the rules you are allowed to do as you please. It’s called management rights and it’s biased towards the discretion of the manager. A manager even has the right under industrial relations law to do things that are contrary to the employer’s interest, disobedient to that manager’s superiors, and contrary to any measure of professionalism or competence.

But there’s one catch. If you don’t read the instructions, you might be barred from doing something incredibly basic. And that will make you look ridiculous.

As with the use of bleach, so-to with the use of authority in a unionized environment. Bleach and unions are both practical tools to achieve the desired outcome. They are to cause good where intended, act as a remedy to a precise problem, and have the side-effect of causing harm to those who are negligent. You are not being asked to apply high intelligence. Rather, you must take care that you follow the written instructions, be diligent and prudent in your handling of the active ingredient, and make regular use of this skill-set so that you don’t get sloppy.

Remember, when putting bleach in your wash basin you have the goal of getting the laundry done. So too, when interacting with a union you have the goal of achieving business goals by providing direction to staff. If you make the caustic agent something that you fear, neglect, and refuse to interact with, you will gradually lose the freedom to step out into the world looking your best. Stains will gradually destroy your favorite garments, while labour contempt erodes your confidence to advance brave and respectful leadership.

So get over your arrogance and fear, and read the instructions. It will make your willpower look bright and fluffy.

2 thoughts on “How to correctly work with bleach and unions

  1. A few years ago I ran into a guy who owned a small sheet metal business. The employees had recently unionized. The owner, who had fought unionization, grew to like it. A lot. There was no more deciding how many weeks holiday an employee received. There was no deciding how much compassionate leave to give an employee whose mother had died, or if any compassionate leave was in order for somebody whose 2nd cousin had died. No need to decide on what the salaries would be for the coming year. And on and on and on. There were of course some decisions he had to make re employee relations but for the most part he said that the great majority of decisions were made during bargaining with the union. So just follow the contract (directions). >

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