That was the message conveyed by a UWUA Young Workers Committee panel that gathered virtually for the P4A Training in Action conference. Committee members joined me and National Executive Vice President Patrick Dillon for a discussion about the choices they faced as high schoolers preparing for their futures. They hope that by sharing their experience they can help other young people facing similar decisions.
“What we hope to get across to young people out there deciding on career options is that while college is one path to take, it’s not the only path. There are other options out there,” Amber Lalaonde said to start the discussion. Her own journey to becoming a member of Michigan Local 104 started with trying out college before she ultimately landed her utility job. “I grew up in a union household. It was always ‘You can go to college, or you can go to trades.’ I wanted to originally go into nursing, and I switched to teaching, and then I just got an associate degree, walking away with pretty much a mortgage that I am still paying on.”
California member Lita Jimenez of Local 132 echoed that experience: “I originally thought I wanted to go into law, so I got my paralegal degree, expecting to make so much money. While I didn’t stay with it, I did land in my union job, and I’m making probably double now what I would have been making as a paralegal.”
“I wish I knew more of that in high school, where I could have done something I liked,” Local G-555 Steward Rick Higginbotham added. He, too, spent time and money pursuing college before he found his calling as a utility worker.
For these young members, a union job is about more than money. “The money is great, but the union has built a family for me,” said Melissa Suarez, a member of Local 129. “I didn’t have all of that stuff growing up. My mom worked, my stepdad worked, my dad worked, my stepmom worked. I didn’t have a close family. Just having the union as a family, is really what keeps me here.”
If you know high schoolers planning for their futures, UWUA’s Young Workers Committee wants them to know there are choices out there that provide good paying, union jobs. College isn’t for everyone, especially straight out of high school. We encourage young people to do their homework: A union job is a viable option. You can learn a real-world skill and earn a substantial wage doing something you love and something that you can use. For more information, contact Reggie Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.