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Labor & Economy

In Defense of Unions

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There are many similarities between the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s and the union movement that preceded it in the early decades of the 20th century. Both met with hostility, opposition, and violence. Yet today we look back on the former with gratitude and admiration, while the latter is either forgotten or distorted in our collective memory.

Hard-fought union gains have become part of the fabric of our society: the eight-hour day, elimination of child labor, and safer conditions are but a few of the benefits that unions have secured for all of us. Yet unions have been broadly demonized, and the gains they have won are slipping away.

I’ll be the first to admit that unions have their issues. Nevertheless, I am grateful that my husband and I have been loyal union members all of our adult lives (I am a teacher; he is a Teamster). If it were not for our union jobs, our life style would certainly have been considerably different. It is because of our membership and union representation that we can live the American Dream.

Despite the attacks against them, unions are more relevant and necessary than ever. Besides raising the standard of living, they provide training for the unemployed and underemployed so that a new labor force can obtain prevailing-wage, career-path jobs. They bring new business to communities – when people work, people spend – offering a much-needed boost for local economies.

By utilizing union-trained workers, business can create greener, less polluted, more environmentally sustainable communities. This is not about the public versus the private sectors. It is about maintaining the life-changing policies which unions have helped win and from which we all benefit.

When non-union companies, like Walmart, pay such low wages that new hires are given applications for public assistance, something is dreadfully wrong. Yes, lower-cost products are available through such stores (something many consumers are drawn to), but the public then has to take on an additional tax burden to cover food, health, and housing expenses for these workers and their families.

“Made by Union Labor” should once again be the mantra for our nation. For this to happen, unions, political parties, and all social-rights advocates must constantly remind us how we all benefit when the labor movement thrives.

Rosemary Jenkins is chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance.

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