A March on the Boss. What is that, exactly? It probably sounds intimidating, right?
In fact, a March on the Boss is a common, effective tactic that union and non-union workers can use to address serious issues at work. Whether or not such issues are covered by the terms of a collective agreement, sometimes it takes co-ordinated direct action to address our working conditions. That’s where a March on the Boss can help.
A March on the Boss is a way for a group of coworkers to raise issues with management together, instead of trying to address the problems individually. That may sound easy, but they key to success is the proper preparation, just like any workplace action.
“We know AUPE members have some fight in them,” says AUPE Vice-President Bonnie Gostola. “Actions like a March on the Boss don’t have to be fights per se, but it certainly takes courage and planning to pull one off successfully.”
Let’s review a case study of real AUPE members who used a March on the Boss effectively. This case study should give you an idea of how a March on the Boss works and how action like this could help you and your workplace. The names of the members have been changed to maintain their anonymity.
Tracy became an AUPE member when they joined their current workplace a couple years ago. However, this workplace was having trouble with a toxic manager long before Tracy came on staff. Members experienced bullying, harrassment, favouritism, and even racism at the hands of this horrible boss.
“A lot of people were okay leaving it at the door when going home at the end of the day,” says Tracy. “But I think everyone got fed up once it started affecting our home lives and wellbeing.”
Because everyone was facing similar problems with their boss, it was easy to rally around the issue. The members created a secure group chat to talk about what was going on. Having decided to finally do something about it, the members reached out to AUPE’s Organizing department to work on a plan.
It went like this: Instead of marching on their boss, they scheduled a meeting with their director, who is their boss’s boss. The members all identified the key issues, then they shared their stories and feelings with one member they elected to be the group’s spokesperson. That member put together a three page report, almost like an essay, to present during the meeting. Other members also prepared to share testimonies—their own stories of how their toxic manager impacted them.
“Actions like this can feel confrontational, but bosses are often shocked when so many workers show they are serious about collectively addressing a problem. Most managers are willing to hear you out.”
A March on the Boss usually happens without the boss knowing what is going on, but in this case the members booked a meeting in advance with their director. Nevertheless, that did not prevent the director’s surprise when over a dozen members showed up at once for the meeting.
Tracy believes they were successful because everyone had a stake in fixing the problem. Each member felt passionately about the issues with management, and sharing their testimonies seemed to resonate with their director.
“The biggest thing that helped us was putting a human element behind the issues,” says Tracy. “We could tell our director was absolutely mortified for us.”
Vice-President Gostola agrees: “Actions like this can feel confrontational, but bosses are often shocked when so many workers show they are serious about collectively addressing a problem. Most managers are willing to hear you out.”
The members had two specific asks: to be updated on how management was filling recent vacancies and for their manager to be taken out of their worksite. No matter how you run your March on the Boss, having specific asks, with timelines for management to get back to you, is the most important way to measure your success.
As a result of the members’ actions, their director has given a few updates on the hiring process and, most importantly, their toxic manager is working away from their worksite three out of five days a week. The problem has not been completely resolved, but Tracy says their director has pledged to make more positive changes and there is evidence they are making good on that promise.
“They say they have to go through the proper channels, but we have seen some positive changes,” says Tracy. “I’m very hopeful. Everything will be good in the end, it’s just getting there that's the stressful part.”
According to Tracy, the March on the Boss went so smoothly—and the commitment from their director so sincere—that they aren’t sure if they would have done anything differently.
“Honestly, it all went so well,” they said. “The only thing we regret is not doing it earlier.”