Monday, February 21, 2011

Unions are the Bellwether of the Health of the American Middle-Class

I don't care if you love Unions or hate Unions.  But, I will tell you the truth about Unions.  Unions are what allowed a Middle Class to develop in America in the 20th century. The rise and decline of the Middle Class in our country has always been dependent on the healthy existence of unions. Let me count just a few ways Unions have affected EVERYONE in America:

  • Laws to protect workplace safety
  • Child labor laws
  • Laws to limit workplace abuses regarding compensation and hours of work
  • Equal pay for workers on the job despite your gender, race, or physical condition
  • Minimum wage laws
  • Retirement Pensions
  • Work-place provided Health Care, Vision and Dental insurance benefits
  • Early Retiree Medical Insurance
  • Collective Bargaining
  • Democracy in the workplace
  • Better wages and working conditions
  • Paid holidays, vacations, and overtime pay
  • Family Leave
  • Life Insurance and Death Benefits for families of workers
  • Federal and State laws to restrict business in their pollution of the land and communities we live in

 I don't care if you've never belonged to a Union, the truth is that you have been a benefactor of their efforts. Union workers pay membership dues, but even the non-union and salaried workers still get the benefits of a workplace with collective bargaining agreements because the Company will not allow the non-union workers to have inferior working conditions and benefits in a workplace where a Union Contract has been negotiated.

Today, primarily because of the flight of manufacturing jobs to locations where cheap, non-union labor exist, unions have been weakened.  Now, the Right Wing of this country is trying to completely destroy Unions by taking away the Right of workers to collective bargaining.  Today, they often disguise their efforts at busting unions as "necessary to balance budgets" or "to keep labor rates competitive".  In the first half of the 20th century, it was "to fight Communists".  What is happening in Wisconsin today is a massive uprising of fed-up workers who are saying "NO to the Union Busters" - not only to those in the corporations, but to those in our  houses of elected representatives.

Workers mass in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol to defend their rights

I first became aware of the power of workers controlling the destiny of their economic lives when I worked for the United Farmworkers Union in 1973 in California and Arizona.   The workers who harvested our food were some of the most disenfranchised of all workers.  After working with the UFW and its leader, Cesar Chavez, I knew that unions were the way to get dignity and economic justice for one's life.  In 1977, I began working for one of the largest and richest corporations in the world.  I was hired as an Electronic Assember for $2.81 an hour.  I was required to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO within 30 days of employment.  In the first 90 days, I had employer-paid medical, dental, and life insurance benefits.  I received a Cost-of-Living raise of 19 cents in the first 30 days.  I received a union negotiated pay increase each year.  I was earning a retirement pension.  I had a Stock and Savings Plan. I was entitled to Tuition Reimbursement.  I was paid overtime after 8 hours a day and on holidays and Sundays. I was promoted and laid-off based on seniority with the company.  I worked 27 years for that company.

 Our Union was run by democratic principles with monthly meetings and elections of all officers and representatives by the Union members.  I was elected  by my fellow workers as Union Steward and Negotiator to represent their interests on the job and at the bargaining table.  I was elected and re-elected as their full-time Business Representative where I represented aggrieved workers up to and including binding arbitration.  In 27 years, we went out on strike twice.  Most of the time, we reached agreement, sometimes winning, sometimes losing on various bargaining points.  We had True Democracy in the workplace. Because we had a Contract with the employer regarding our working conditions and compensation, we had Justice on the Job.  I raised a family, bought a home, and retired with a pension.   I gladly paid membership dues and stood on picket lines to gain these privileges.  Many non-union workers think any benefits on the job are given to them by the employer.  This is certainly not my experience.  Even workers who never came to a union meeting and complained about dues always got fair and equal representation on the job because of the union.  As we often hear, freedom isn't free and equal justice on the job and fair pay hasn't come without sacrifices of millions of union workers and their families.

 I will gladly stand in solidarity with my Wisconsin Union Brothers and Sisters on Tuesday, February 22, 2011.  You can join a Solidarity Rally in your State today, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Locally we will be in Santa Fe at the state Capitol Building (backside of the Roundhouse) Tuesday, February 22nd at 12:15pm MST.

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