I am originally from Texas. Austin to be exact which is why I fit in to my new home, Madison, Wisconsin, so well, I think. Many generations back, my family has been born and raised in Texas. I began my working life there and was employed until I left giving me over ten years of working experience in that state. I'm a cook by trade but have also worked as a barista, waitress, dishwasher, prep cook, landscaper, tiling contractor, every position at McDonald's, worked my way up to managing several shops and kitchens, and a few other jobs I'd rather pretend never existed. And I had no idea what a union was until 2010.
I probably don't need to point out that the majority of those jobs were in customer service. I've always had great pride in my strong work ethic. From my very first job, my bosses noticed my attention to detail and great need to do things exactly as they were supposed to be done. I can thank obsessive compulsive-disorder for a lot of that but it also just came naturally to me. I think I've been somewhat of an overachiever since I was a kid. So of all the jobs I have held, in 17 years, I've been fired once.
In 2010, my education on unions began. My husband and I agreed to accept his job offer in Madison and we were excited to settle down and expand our family. On our 6th day in our new home, we found out we were pregnant. Months later with a reasonably large belly, I watched the news and heard the people just blocks from our home occupy downtown as Act 10 was signed into law. I had to have my husband explain why so many of the reasons we had accepted this job were now null and void or damaged. Our insurance premiums and copays went up before we had even used them. We saw a pay cut only a few checks after he started and we weren't even union members. I won't even go on with all the cuts that came next.
"What's all this about Unions? Those things that the mobsters in the movies are always in charge of? What the hell is going on here?"
Seriously. Those were the thoughts going through my head and then coming out of my mouth in question form. That is how much of a blank slate my union knowledge was built on.
I know one thing a lot of people never want to hear is that people can be dumb, ignorant, and short sighted and sometimes you have to tell people what is best for them. "Whoa?!", you say? Yes. This is a belief that has contributed to the conclusion I have drawn about unions.
Seatbelts, auto insurance, health insurance, helmets, vaccinations. Those are all things that are not only good for the individual but in the long run, are good for the economy and our society. Investing in them up front not only saves money but also makes it possible to contribute more in the end. They cost money and they are required. I believe unions fall into this same category.
Throughout my learning about unions and so called "right to work" laws I have often had questions regarding their constitutionality. While learning about them, many questions arose that I often hear from anti-union folks, because they are reasonable questions to ask when learning or not having information on the subject past a certain point however, it only took a little more investigating and long term thinking to get my answers.
One very common question is: Why should someone be forced to pay union dues?
Complicated? As it turns out, not really. The answer is the same as why you should wear a helmet. Or have auto insurance. It protects you which, in the long run, protects society. As long as there are employers that will take advantage of their workers in order to make more of a profit, there will be a need for unions. No one is forced to join a union even though they benefit from the presence of one. You instantly benefit from the work unions have done to make your work environment one of true fairness. Do you get a 30 minute lunch break for every 8 hours of work? Whether you want to believe it or not, a union fought for you to have that along with holidays off and many other benefits many take for granted.
Unfortunately, I have never experienced the joy of automatically having holidays and weekends off. I've never received sick pay or had a retirement account. I never had anyone fight for me when I asked for a raise and got fired instead. I am, after all, from Texas.
Those who have these questions but never find an answer that progresses their thinking to side with unions tend to have the same problem in other areas. Understanding investment in infrastructure or the benefits of making sure your employees have health insurance or why clean energy is a good idea are just a few.
Frankly, I am very surprised more people are not quicker to acknowledge that our government is not a reliable advocate for working folks. Investing in a group whose sole purpose is to insure your working life actually supports your non-working life seems like like a no-brainer to me. Imagine if people that actually enjoyed working at Walmart could afford to work at Walmart. Imagine your cooks and waitresses not serving you your meal while they are sick.
With laws like the one being pushed through in Michigan right now, those who have yet to understand the benefits of unions are essentially hearing that the lemonade they have been enjoying and paying for is now freeeeee! You can have all the lemonade you want and you don't have to pay for it, unless you want to. But if you don't want to, no big deal because you can have it anyway.
That is not how you support a lemonade stand.