I saw the recent raise in my paycheck and I felt sick to my stomach. Not sick because I was disappointed at the amount of the raise. No. Sick with relief. For the first time in my life, I’m financially stable. The stress relief that accompanied that realization was leaving me a little nauseated.
You see, for most of my life, I lived in Florida, a “Right to Work” state. I can count the number of raises I have received in that state on one hand. And I had worked there for nearly 40 years. Benefits were paltry at best. I could be fired for any reason at all, or no reason whatsoever. I was unappreciated, unsupported, and I never felt safe. My pay never kept up with the cost of living. I often woke up in a cold sweat, wondering how I’d pay the bills, or what would happen if I became too sick to work. If they needed me to work a 16 hour double shift, I had no choice but to do so. I had no recourse when an injustice was visited upon me. When I was exposed to lead paint and the accompanying toxic fumes, my boss told me (I swear to God), “Just drink milk and you’ll be fine.” The future was very dark.
Now I’m working in the state of Washington, for the City of Seattle, and I’m protected by a union. I get raises. I have health insurance and disability and dental and vision and sick leave, and if the stuff hits the fan, the union will send a representative to sit in on any subsequent meetings. I cannot work more than 12 hours a day, and I am allowed to say no if I only want to work a regular 8 hour shift instead. Can you imagine? I can say no. Such a little word, but it means so much to me.
It’s the same exact bridgetending job that I had in Florida, but I make three times as much money. Do you have any idea how much that means to me and to my life? I eat better food. I don’t suffer from stress-related maladies. I don’t wake up in a cold sweat. I can relax and enjoy my loved ones. I have a reliable car. I don’t live in a ghetto. The future is bright.
Thanks to union-busting federal legislation, I’m no longer required to pay union dues. But I do, and I always will. My union has saved my bacon on multiple occasions.
If you honestly think that your employer will treat you decently without a union having your back, good luck with that. I’ve been on both sides of that situation, and I know for certain that unions, the institutions that gave us the 40 hour work week and did away with child labor, are the only ones who are truly on the side of the 99 percent. They need our support. They are a gift. That gift should never be taken for granted.
Thank you, PTE Local 17, and all the unions out there that still exist, for all that you do. You have given me quality of life. I’m told I’m good with words, but I find myself at a loss to adequately explain how much that means to me.
Union staff have stressful jobs, holding back the tide of inequity, but what they do really, truly matters and won’t be forgotten. Please join me in staying union strong.