By Lilud, a former teaching colleague of mine.
Here it is already, the last unofficial weekend of summer. It seems like we just observed Memorial Day. Have you ever given any thought to why we have a holiday called Labor Day? As I just taught my second grade students, Labor Day was intended to be a day of rest so people could recognize the hard work of the average working person. Since the first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882, a lot has happened in the working lives of the average person. Many people work weekends, holidays, evenings, nights, around the clock in shifts, and in excess of 40 hours per week. Union membership has declined sharply. Wages have stagnated.
My friend Fred, the former union president of my local, once called me a union stalwart. He sure had that right. I have served as building representative, Region 36 representative, and I was elected to the negotiating committee of my local. Long before I was born, the coalminers in the vicinity of my home town literally fought for the right to safer working conditions, better pay, and job security. Eventually the UMWA caught on in the area and miners negotiated better working conditions. My father was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police. (FOP) When I began teaching in public schools, I joined the union as soon as my building rep came knocking.
I am currently a member of the Illinois Education Association/National Education Association, and thoroughly enjoy the benefits that come with being a member. For example, if someone decides to sue me for educational malpractice, my legal representation will be provided by the union. My job isn’t protected by tenure. Illinois State Senate Bill 7 put an end to that. I can be dismissed if my evaluator concludes I need improvement. This conclusion has to be adequately documented and if I fail to significantly improve during the remediation process, I can be dismissed. At least there IS a remediation process. Without this union bargained process, I could be dismissed for any reason. That is the essence of at will employment.
If you enjoy a forty hour work week, paid vacations, weekends off, sick days, disability insurance, time and a half, double time on weekends and other benefits, these became available to you because union members and organizers worked to negotiate them for you. Businesses and factories adopted these benefits, even if they weren’t a union shop. The unions and their members can be thanked for this.
If you work for a forty hour a week salary, but you actually work more like sixty hours, it is likely because your employer is taking advantage of you. You aren’t in a union. Of course you’re going to work the sixty hours because you have bills to pay. If you won’t work the hours, someone else will. The sister of a friend of mine was diagnosed with brain cancer. She used up all of her sick days, and then was fired. She lost her medical benefits. She wasn’t a member of a union.
I will continue to strongly support and be an active member of my local, state, and national chapters of my union. I think the time has come in this country for union membership to increase. Wages have stagnated, union membership has declined, and workers are experiencing working conditions and practices that previously had been eliminated due to union negotiation. Claims of age discrimination in the workplace have sharply increased over the last decade. It’s time for the American worker to reclaim their power through union membership.
Happy Labor Day everyone.