For men and women who plan on entering the job market as non-professionals -- who see themselves more as blue-collar "workers" than as white-collar "careerists" -- here are seven practical reasons why they should consider being represented by a labor union.
1. Money. Generally speaking, union jobs pay significantly more than non-union jobs. You want to be part of the American middle-class? Join a union. From top to bottom, industry to industry, region to region, union wages are going to be roughly 10-20 percent higher than non-union wages. Which is why companies resist them; they don't want to pay one dime more than they have to.
Of course, anti-labor propaganda suggests that it's a trade-off, that the additional pay will be eaten up by monthly union dues. That's a lie. Depending on the industry, union dues average about $60 a month, which is $600-$720 a year. And $720 isn't 15 percent of any union worker's income... unless they happen to live in Guatemala and earn $4,800 a year, which is less than half the U.S. federal minimum wage. The argument is absurd.
2. Benefits. Pensions, medical insurance, paid vacation, holidays, personal holidays, sick pay, overtime premiums, shift differential, etc, are generally not only better in a union shop, many of these goodies don't even exist without a union contract. It's another reason companies resist being unionized.
3. Safety. Union facilities are safer than non-union facilities. Anti-labor folks can talk all they like about OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) being the "great equalizer," but it's not true. Even before it was ravaged by eight years of Bush administration neglect, OSHA was remote, understaffed and over-extended. A union contract gives employees the immediate right to address an unsafe condition. There's no comparison. Union facilities are far safer.
4. Dignity. As a union worker you'll see fewer moody and dictatorial bosses. While you can still (rightly) be fired for job performance, you don't have to tip-toe around in fear of being harassed or terrorized. Also, ironically, because administering a contract requires a higher level of competence, you'll find more efficient bosses in a union shop. Instead of flitting about making questionable, off-the-cuff decisions, they're forced to behave like "professionals."
5. Security. Bosses can't just walk up and fire you because they want to give your job to their wife's nephew. Nor can they lay you off out of sequence, demote you arbitrarily, or prevent you, without sufficient cause, from promoting to the next higher job. African Americans and women didn't get their shot at big-time manufacturing jobs until labor unions gave it to them, a fact that doesn't receive enough recognition.
6. Competence. Union workers tend to be better workers than their non-union counterparts. Before you vehemently object, just take a moment to consider the dynamics. Which job in a community is going to attract the higher caliber worker -- the one offering decent wages, good benefits and exemplary working conditions? Or the one with low pay, lousy benefits and no air-conditioning?
7. Activism. You have the opportunity to become a shop steward and represent your fellow workers. Being chosen steward is no glorified popularity contest -- not like being elected class president or homecoming queen. Indeed, people on the floor are going to pick a person they deem best qualified to represent their interests. And as a union official whose authority is recognized by federal labor law, you will forever be a footnote in the history of the American labor movement. How cool is that?
David Macaray, an LA playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org