Labor Day

Here is an essay I wrote last year for Labor Day. Since then, the MN legislature has been taken over by a more labor-friendly party. However, anti-labor appointees still dominate the governing board of MNSCU so relations aren’t the best. We did get a very small raise and a return to scheduled COLA/seniority steps in the last contract, so one line is outdated now.

On this Labor Day, I want everyone to know that I am proud and happy to be a union member. Being part of an organized workers group has financial advantages, but that’s the least of it. Knowing the parameters of my job description – what are my duties and what are my employer’s – means I can focus my work efforts on what I do best. It means I have reliable income and benefits (how badly would these have been slashed without a contract, never mind that there’s been no cash raise for at least six years, not even seniority or COLA, and increases in the health insurance costs passed on to us).

Being part of a union also makes me a target. Because private sector industries that have traditionally been heavily unionized (heavy manufacturing) have declined, and because office workers have never had the benefit of a union, government-sector workers are a bigger fraction of a smaller pie than they were 50, or even 30, years ago. Yes, your state taxes help support my paycheck (in addition to the tuition my students pay). The state has made the decision that higher education – and the educated workforce it generates – is important enough to Minnesota’s future that it’s worth supporting.

The anti-union message coming from right-wing political media has a simple root: greed. Union paychecks come out of corporate profits and out of taxes. Paying employees cuts profits for plutocrats, and requires tax revenues that can’t be slashed to reward the plutocratic constituencies that support the politicians. Unfortunately it has found some resonance among non-union workers. Some of these workers see union members’ improved benefits and working conditions and, instead of asking “why can’t we have that?” ask “why should they have that?”
Well, you have a lot of that. You have weekends, you have workplace safety laws, you have a minimum wage (which puts a floor under your pay even if you earn many times that minimum!) and you have rights and protections your great-grandparents didn’t have. Thank the unions for this.

Some of you reading this are members of a union. Many are not. Maybe some of you work along side of union members, or even as supervisors of union members. But look at what your life would be like without unions. When you go to the hospital, are you glad to have professional nurses, or would you prefer to have whoever the hospital can hire cheapest that week? Without union protection, that might very well be the case. Be thankful for the predictability that hard-fought union battles have provided. Pity the supervisor who, instead of having the structure and framework of a union with which to work, must include all the wage and working condition considerations in planning her staffing, with the added pressure from above to minimize salary cost and from below of constant negotiation with individual employees. A union framework unifies all those considerations so the supervision can better focus on skills and good practice.

Finally, being part of a union the last several years has allowed me to be a job creator. The security and, yes, better income of union membership has let our family spend money that went to Minnesota companies and Minnesota workers – since starting at Century, our family has been able to spend $100,000 in home improvements and remodeling. These [loans] were not affordable on my non-union pay and with my non-union insecurity. Unions are good for workers, good for employers, and good for communities. Enjoy your Labor Day.


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