With the holidays upon us, now is a good time to reflect on why we get to enjoy the benefits we have today. How is it that we are able to have paid time off to be with family and friends? What brought us paid holidays, vacations, sick days, retirement, and even weekends?
Workers joining together, forming unions and bargaining collectively is what brought us these benefits. None of it was given to us by employers; everything we have today was fought for. We enjoy job security, workplace safety, and the benefits we have because of the actions of people who came before us, some of whom died for what we are now enjoying.
All of the gains working people made over the last century should never be taken for granted. They are under attack; we need to stay vigilant and actively defend them.
Utility work is hard work
Working for a utility is hard work. It’s sometimes dirty, often dangerous and always critical. From the time people began generating and wiring communities with electricity, installing water/waste water and heating their homes with natural gas, utility workers have been on the job.
Before utility workers organized themselves into a union, we were “at will” employees with no job security. Times were tough. But times changed. Working people demanded their rights. And, we had friends in the White House and in Congress. That’s not so true now.
In 1938, Phillip Murray, vice president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO, part of what is now the AFL-CIO, established the Utility Workers Organizing Committee.
It was tough work. The bosses fought against the UWOC. But the early organizers of our union, people like Alan Haywood, Harold Straub, Ed Shedlock, Reggie Brown, Garland Sanders and Bill Munger didn’t have any quit in them.
And, they were ready to build a more equitable society in America. Without these courageous leaders of the labor movement, we would not enjoy the contractual rights and protections we enjoy today.
Never forget what the union can do
I was reminded of what the union means to individual members in a letter we recently received from a retiree. He wrote: “I worked for New Jersey American Water for 44 years, having just retired from Local 391. Unfortunately, there were three occasions during this period when my job could have been terminated, were it not for the union.
“I am writing now to officially let you know how much I appreciate what the union did for me over the years. If it were not for the union saving my skin on these occasions, I would not have been able to retire with as good a pension as I am now receiving. In fact, as I was leaving the job on the last day, I decided to tell all the less-seasoned workers to never forget what the union can do for them and the importance of
having a union job.
“My sincere thanks to all union members, the shop stewards and the local president, for their dedicated service and loyalty to the union workers.”
It’s a big fight
All that this retired member (and thousands like him) has for being a UWUA member for 44 years is at risk of being taken away. If we are to maintain what we have and ensure the same, or better, for the next generation of utility workers, we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and fight, at our workplaces, and in the halls of government.
UWUA members have been in the forefront of fighting for a better America. And, we will continue to fight with the same spirit of solidarity and unity that has brought us to where we are today.
Never take what you have for granted and never forget where you came from. Those who came before us put their lives on the line so we can spend time with our families, which is why we work in the first place. Happy holidays and enjoy the season with family and friends.