Next week, hundreds of thousands of working people will join together to stand up for their right to improve their lives and those of their families.
The Working People’s Week of Action, which will include events in cities across the country and across Massachusetts, will stand in sharp contrast to recent union-busting efforts led by wealthy special interests. These include the case of Janus V AFSCME, which will be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 26. The case attacks the freedom of working people to join unions for a better life and is driven by powerful special interests. It is designed to divide us from our co-workers.
But American workers will not be divided by any court case or other attack on our unity. That’s because America needs union jobs now more than ever, to safeguard the American Dream, allowing hard working people to ascend to the middle class, and stay there.
I’m a third generation electrician. When a non-union employer offered me just $18 per hour, after I finished a four-year apprenticeship, I declined. Instead I was able to join the union, which paid a much better wage. I eventually was fortunate to become a staff electrician at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. At UMass Dartmouth, I have excellent health benefits. I never worry about the cost of going to the doctor. But there is a lot more to my story.
When a crisis occurs, unions strengthen our communities by allowing us to take care of our families. My father, also a union electrician, was diagnosed with cancer, and his health insurance paid the vast majority of his medical bills. He got such wonderful care that he lived for 10 more years after his diagnosis, defying his prognosis. The extra years my family enjoyed with my father, well, you just can’t put a price on that. Without the union, I don’t think we would have had the same outcome.
My family faced another health crisis when my stepson was diagnosed with Stage Three kidney failure at the age of just five. When his condition advanced and dialysis was no longer effective, he needed a new kidney, but no one in the family was a match. However, I matched with a young man in Atlanta, and his wife was a match for my stepson. The union paid all of the medical bills for the surgeries for my stepson and myself. In addition, because I had a generous paid time off, I had the time needed to recover from the surgery.
Two lives were saved. Today, my stepson is a thriving teenager, and that young man in Atlanta has a new baby boy.
The truth is that we need more union jobs because unions care about their members. They are fueled by a passion for equity, justice and quality work. Quality work, especially as an electrician, demands high standards of safety. In Massachusetts, we have some of the highest standards of safety in the country. These, too, have been driven by union advocacy.
When I am out there, sometimes performing dangerous work, I know that I am not alone. I am backed by a union that is committed to ensuring working people have the power to speak out for fair pay, affordable health care, and humane working conditions. This commitment extends to all workers, regardless of race, gender or disability.
When I think of what the union has done for me and other working people, I don’t have to look very far. Recently, the GIC, which provides health care to state workers, proposed reducing the number of health insurers workers could choose from. This would have forced thousands of working people to find new doctors. Most alarming to me, a change in insurance could bump sick people needing a new organ — like my stepson — from their current position on the transplant list.
The unions succeeded in defeating this proposal, in order to safeguard our healthcare. The union stands for us, so I stand with the union. We are more powerful together than any one voice alone.
Ultimately, it’s about freedom. A Supreme Court ruling that attacks public unions assails our freedom as Americans to join together to advocate for a better life. We are rising up to protect this freedom and ensure that working people have power in numbers for generations to come.