One thing really striking when working for the Commission is the loud voices of the Unions...
Every week you receive at least 4 to 5 flyers from Unions explaining how good they are or have been when it comes to protect the well being of workers.
In the European Commission, there are 7 different Unions from which you can choose (CSE, FFPE, R&D, SFIE, Solidarité Européenne, TAO/AFI and US). I don't even know what the acronyms stands for... well US is Union Syndicale, one of the biggest spammers in terms of flyers. So don't even ask me how they differ from each other.
My guess is that they are trying to replicate the Belgium political spectrum... in which you have left and right and up and down (Walloons and Flemish). Such a mess, that only insiders really know who is doing what.
After quite a lengthy observation, I have found three main activities for the Unions:
1) They help you prepare for Concours. They publish some books on the Verbal and Numeric Q&A, as well as the European Test. They organize sessions to review the materials, which can be very useful. Their preparation to specific competencies is much less helpful as they tend to give you general tips on how to prepare. All this is actually costly.
2) They defend you against the Admin. I am sure most of the people join because at one point a decision of Admin was against them, and not to be crushed they ask the help of a Union.
3) They BARK! That is their most visible activity. Each flyer would convince you that this particular Union will defend you for a very important threat: nursery changes, lack of space in European Schools, canteens' food getting from bad to worse. They just bark but don't bite...
Unions are just extras when it comes to negotiate with Admin. Because the EC needs to show a lively social dialogue, Unions are invited (or just come un-invited) to the table and Admin just decides. For example, the last changes of the Official Statutes in 2004 (the Kinnock Reform) were rejected by all the Unions but one. Since then, the Unions like to remind you how they were against the job insecurity of AC, the outsourcing of many services, the decrease in the salary scale... What did they mobilize? Nothing... Not a single strike, just pointless petitions!
Oh they like to remind you that the reform has decreased the quality of our canteens, that AC status is illegal, blahblah... it has been for years and the Admin was already preparing a new round of reforms.
For the "Social Dialogue", I believe the Unions are similar to small dogs... you know the small dogs, which can bark very hard but would not dare bite you.