What do we do with what we have?

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By DAVID A. COOK
President

Less than two weeks ago a new poll of Americans, conducted by Gallup showed that almost 70 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Labor unions. That’s the highest number since 1965. With organizing victories building at major employers like Amazon and Starbucks and job actions across the country, there is clear and obvious momentum on the side of workers.

With Labor Day right behind us, the obvious question becomes: what can we do with this momentum?

First, we have to use these conditions to secure the best contracts possible. Our recent contracts with our largest employers prove that this is possible. Historic wage increases and an expansion of benefits without adding costs reflect how strong our bargaining position can be during these times.

Second, we have to focus on growing this union through organizing. We must aggressively seek out workplaces where employees are in need of union help and we have to demonstrate in clear and simple terms what we can offer to workers. We can get workers better wages and real benefits, and we can protect them from discrimination and unfair treatment on the job.

BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP
However, in order to do this, we have to put ourselves out there and make sure the public knows who we are.

Our union can take steps to make this happen, but YOU, our partners, need to help us in this endeavor. We need YOU to tell your story, whatever it might be. Maybe it’s someone who got their job back after being unfairly terminated, or maybe it’s someone who was able to get the healthcare they badly needed without breaking the bank, or maybe it’s just someone who was able to support themselves and their family because of the good union wages we’ve negotiated.

YOU are the best spokespeople we have. It’s your stories that matter the most, and first and foremost it’s your lives we try to improve every day. It’s easy for unions to seem “abstract” to people who don’t have much experience with us. If someone hasn’t been a member of a union, or known someone who was, can we blame them for not knowing much about a union and how it can help them in the long term? Or worse, perhaps someone had a single bad experience with a union and now it’s all they talk about with others.

YOU’RE OUR BEST SPOKESPERSON
The point is YOU, our partners in our union, can help us talk to the public better than anyone else can. I would ask that any partner reading this consider how YOU can tell your story to a non-union worker, or how you can engage someone who doesn’t know much about unions in a conversation about what unions can do to help them in so many ways: wages, health benefits, job safety, job protection and so much more.

DIFFERENT CONCEPT
We have seen a number of organizing campaigns at major employers, but to date, most of them have yet to actually secure a union contract. A number of these campaigns are by workers who want to organize but who choose not to affiliate with an existing Labor union. That method appears to be effective for organizing because it stops employers from framing these efforts as “the union versus management.”

While these true grassroots movements have been working, experience has shown that they are not the most effective way to ultimately bargain a contract.

POINTS TO PONDER
I don’t have all the answers to these pressing issues, but I know we need to be considering them. How can we use our resources and knowledge and infrastructure to help grassroots organizing campaigns result in strong union contracts?

Perhaps one way is to develop a connection between these independent organizational efforts and our own partners so we can help them understand the value of a union, and how we can help them in their fight for workers.

The people are supportive of unions, there is clear momentum on our side. Energy is good, but now we have to harness that energy and turn it into results.

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