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PEP Oct 2014
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Public Employee Press

The value of unions

"Unions are the greatest barrier against the economic elite's attack on worker protections and government services."

By LILLIAN ROBERTS
Executive Director
District Council 37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO

As the elected leader of our union, I often feel that I am on a roller coaster ride.

We're always proud of our achievements - most recently the new economic agreement. But we also are constantly under siege by powerful interests out to destroy unions and take back our benefits.

As organized labor copes with a nationwide attack in the courts, legislatures and the corporate media, it's a time to look inward and reflect upon what unions have meant for working families and how we can be better prepared to fight back.

We are stepping up our effort to teach our coworkers, families and friends about the historic importance of unions, which created the middle class in the United States.

The list of accomplishments is endless. Unions successfully fought for the end of child labor; employer-based health coverage; traditional pensions; the Family and Medical Leave Act; Social Security; Medicare; Medicaid; the minimum wage; paid vacation; workplace safety standards; holiday pay; the right to strike; equal pay; the 40-hour workweek; whistleblower protections; collective bargaining rights, and worker's compensation.

The economic elite has relentlessly attacked working people for over three decades. They have nearly killed off unions in the private sector - where less than 7 percent of the workforce enjoys representation - and now public employee unions are the main target.

Hold politicians accountable

As public employees, we need to do everything possible to protect government services. We have to defend benefits unions have won through collective bargaining, such as our pensions, civil service protections, and employer-provided health insurance. As public watchdogs, we work to elect progressive politicians who share our values and hold them accountable when they betray working families.

At home, we are pleased with the direction of the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who based his campaign on addressing our great economic divide. His willingness to deal quickly with our expired economic agreement - and, more recently, his expansion of the local living wage law - point to the importance of supporting progressive politicians. We are encouraged by his support for affordable housing, universal feeding in the schools and paid sick leave.

Focusing on our bread-and-butter issues, I am excited about working with the Joint Recruitment and Promotion Study Committee created under our new economic agreement. The committee will search for promotional opportunities for minorities and women, and it will consider adding new levels in job title series and creating new civil service jobs.

Earlier this year, we joined the "50,000 Stronger" campaign of our national union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, as we worked to sign up agency-fee payers as members. Agency-fee payers pay dues for union services but are not members

DC 37 succeeded in reducing our agency-fee payers from 27,000 to 13,800 in the campaign as we explained to them why it's in their interest to join the union. We don't want to stop until every worker covered by our collective bargaining services becomes an enthusiastic member. As we beef up our shop steward network, we also want to expand our outreach to all members to encourage greater participation in the union.

Administratively, we recently launched a digital project that will help us mobilize our members and better represent them with an electronic grievance tracking system. The digitization of our records will improve our ability to map worksites, monitor city policies and spending, organize politically and fight contract violations.

The roller coaster ride can be disheartening. But you get a rush when you win. Whether you're interested in helping out the union in its get-out-the-vote effort for the Nov. 4 elections or defending your coworkers against workplace troubles, please hop aboard the union roller coaster.



 

 

 

 
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