on unions

I grew up in a union household. I would sooner eat dirt than cross a picket line. The boycott list in my head is way too long to describe.

I’ve been reading some great reflections (Keith Olbermann & Steve Lopez) on why unions are necessary.

And while I have no doubt that my father’s union job is the reason that we always had a home, food and were all educated, the reason I will always support unions is deeper than that.

Part of it is that in my adult life, I have yet to have a union job. And I know that this is the reason I have been afforded zero protection against shoddy health insurance, lack of unemployment insurance, badly calculated withholding on my taxes, slander, and harassment. All the while, I had my father telling me “they can’t do that to you.” But I knew they could. There was no one to tell them not to.

The bigger part, though, is that growing up around my father’s union, I saw that not only do unions look out for the employees they represent, they also look out for the greater good. And I know, to some people, that is another major strike against them. But for me, it’s what we’re all about as humans.

My father is in a union that allowed for cost of living raises to be frozen. For years. In an effort to serve public health, to keep hospitals open, the freezes were agreed to. And yes, there were years where they wanted raises, but after seven years, you couldn’t blame them. And yes, I stood on picket lines with my father for their raises and benefits. But I also stood alongside him during protests that were in support of stopping the closure of major public health institutions.

I know that a lot of people think unions are an evil. That they protect jobs that don’t need protection, that they keep unqualified people in positions they don’t deserve, and that they are greedy and self-serving. And perhaps there are some out there that are like that, but I’ve never supported a movement or a protest that wasn’t designed for the collective good of all of its people–whether they worked for the union or were served by the union.

And I think that’s the deeper problem we’re seeing here. We don’t like collective good. We don’t. We think it’s socialism. But honestly, if it is, so be it.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
-Robert F. Kennedy