What my union means to me

To the Editor:

I am a union member. What precisely does that mean? My colleagues and I have decided that we are stronger together, acting collectively, than we are as individuals. After decades of struggles, our lawmakers and courts have recognized the rights of Americans to come together as individuals and act as a unified body for the good of all. E pluribus unum.

But let's be honest. The decision to act together in a union with my colleagues does not solve all our problems. It doesn't make everyone like the boss. It doesn't magically make more revenue appear on the bottom line. It doesn't make December days any less dark. It doesn't make all the patients get well or all the students get A grades.

Great... So what's the point? Being in a union deeply changes my relationship to my job and to my colleagues -- we are equal partners in making decisions about our wages and our working conditions.

Without coming together in a union, we are employees-at-will. That means our employers can change our benefits, lower our wages or take away our jobs at any time, for any reason. We're just a suggestion box. When we act together as a union, we take equal responsibility for those changes. We are equal decision-makers in the matters that affect our lives and livelihoods. Imagine that!

But it goes beyond our own interests. What working people have found throughout the 20th century is best captured by the late Senator Paul Wellstone, when he said "We all do better when we all do better." Working people began to act on the power they never knew they had. Right here in Vermont, unions have been at the forefront of the fight to bring quality health care to everyone in the state. We know that most folks can scarcely afford the health insurance they have, and tens of thousands of Vermonters have no reasonable access to healthcare.

My union is democracy in action. We elect our leaders. We ask ourselves what our goals and priorities are and how to realize them. We sit with management and work out our disagreements. We have rights. Our children have some measure of security that their mother or father will not lose their jobs at the whim of a supervisor. We have due process. We also squabble with each other, we disagree with management, we make decisions to the best of our ability. Sometimes we make mistakes. But we do it all with a seat at the table. We make ourselves heard. We are equals. We stand or fall together. E pluribus unum.

Ben Johnson

President of United Professions AFT Vermont and the Vermont AFL-CIO

Barre, Vt.

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