What is the value of a union? We, as union members, tend to think wage increases and working conditions are the only reasons for our union. We tend to forget there are many more important aspects of our union than wage increases and working conditions, such as negotiated contracts for medical benefits, paid time off, retirement planning and job security. Our members rely on these benefits in every day life. Simply put, our union quite often is a lifeline.
Protecting our families
The benefits that we enjoy due to collective bargaining are utilized on a daily basis by our members and, just as importantly, by our families. Quite often, many of us share and struggle through very similar challenges. Life’s realities do not discriminate by race or economic background. For example, there is an increasing trend of multi-generational families living in one household. Many of our members are now raising their own grandkids and are required to provide support and medical coverage. More often than not, it’s our union negotiated contracts that allow our members to add family members to their respective medical plans. Our union is a lifeline.
Caring for the afflicted
Many of our union families have seen drug addiction and/or the tragic heroin epidemic hit home. Sometimes it is our union member or a family member. Thankfully, the union negotiated benefits in many of our contracts provide some of the best rehabilitation treatments in the country. These medical and drug addiction programs often help both the addict and their affected family. Our union is a lifeline.
We have seen changes in law that have imposed severe restrictions on driver’s licenses in the utility industry. We have dealt with our members losing their commercial driver’s license due to medical restrictions and, sometimes, loss of license due to alcohol related events. Many of our members are sole earners for their family and these can be devastating events. We don’t throw our members to the curb. We have fought for contractual provisions that often protect their jobs while they sort through their issues. Our union is a lifeline.
We are experiencing many of our members, our member’s parents, or our member’s spouses living with effects of debilitating illnesses such as cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. Our union negotiated benefits provide resources to help cope with the effects of the ever-growing reality of these illnesses. Our union negotiated contracts provide for time off, whether it be paid sick time or Family Medical Leave, to allow our members to recover or help loved ones recover from a serious illness. When necessary, many of our union contracts provide paid long-term disability benefits for our members who cannot return to work. This type of support is often taken for granted. Our union does not turn our back on the 20 or 30-year union member because they are not productive any longer due to the illness and cannot work.
Our union is a lifeline.
Retiring with dignity
Let’s talk about retirement. Americans are working much later in life because of the lack of income in their retirement years. America’s employers have abandoned the concept of a defined benefit plan, otherwise known as a pension, and are now replacing them with defined contribution plans (401K). Many non-union employees have neither of these retirement vehicles while most of our unions have one or both of these options. Our union contracts can not only provide job security in employment but also financial security in retirement. Our union is a lifeline.
Our challenge as union members is to acknowledge what we have in common as Americans; our struggles, our challenges. We must continue to stand in solidarity and stand up for good wages, good working conditions and benefits our union members deserve. While we have good working relationships with many of our employers, the impact of our union representation and support has ultimately helped us secure these contractual benefits. Our union is a lifeline.