Editorial: No Pinky Promises, Let’s Make It Official

Here is a question we have come across recently: Now that my non-union company is matching the Union’s starting salary, why should I join the Union?

Why should you join the union?  According to a statement by the Department of Labor “Labor unions improve wages and working conditions for all workers, whether they are union members or not. Unions help reduce wage gaps for women workers and workers of color.  Union members have better job safety protections and better paid leave than non-union workers and are more secure exercising their rights in the workplace.”

With the recent increase in activity in organizing drives across all industries, companies are feeling the pressure to adapt to the demands for higher standards from their employees.  When faced with this pressure, it seems that employers are more likely to increase wages and benefits before opening their doors to unions.  So as much as it may appear that more non-union companies are turning over a new leaf, the truth is that workers are rising-up and realizing that words are nice, but they can also be temporary.  Without the protections of a signed union contract all you have are promises which may or may not be fulfilled depending on what decisions your company makes.  

There are three things you can absolutely count on: 1. Death;  2. Taxes; and 3. The protections you receive from your union contract.  We have said it before, and this message will never change.  Your employer may have the best intentions and want or do their best for you.  There are a lot of good, responsible, and generous employers out there, but when the bigger fish comes into the picture, good things may change and very quickly.

What if your company sells or is taken over by another company?  Do they have to honor your benefits and/or salary? What if your manager moves on or loses their job?  Will things stay the same?  What if your company decides to change your position, salary, benefits, or anything related to your job?  Without a union contract anything can happen, and anything can change withpout notice and at the whim of your employer.  In today’s work environment, workers have become a hot commodity and their wages are higher.  These changes have been attributed to the residual impacts of the pandemic.  But I believe it has more to do with a more level playing field caused by workers organizing.  After all, when union density declines, so do workers’ wages and, inversely, the same is true and in this case when union density increases, wages rise, and benefits improve.  

We have seen it happen recently during multiple organizing drives.  Employers may feel if they sweeten their employees’ wages or benefits, that they may be able to stave off a budding unionization movement at their company.  And that may have been true in the past, but we are seeing just the opposite occur in today’s environment.  Workers are smart, and they can tell what is going on.  They know that the only reason they are getting raises and better benefits all of a sudden is because other workers at their company, or facility have chosen to organize and join Local 1500.  We’ll happily take the blame for that and of course we want that for them.  However, as I stated before, and have also heard from workers, they know their recent gains are not guaranteed and can be taken away just as quickly as they were implemented, and without the protection of an enforceable union contract.

As the years go by, we have seen workers become savvier, and even more determined to make sure their rights are not being violated in any way.  In my opinion, this is one of the cornerstones to the success of workers banding together and unionizing across the country.  You cannot tell workers what you think they want to hear, or worse yet, what you think is best for them.  They know, and they are working toward making positive changes in their lives, especially with their jobs.  Workers want enforcement and accountability.  They want to know that if their employer steps out of line that there can and will be repercussions.  They want transparency and a work environment that fosters their happiness at work and their success.  You ain’t pulling the wool over the eyes of today’s work force.  Not gonna happen.

I fully respect that and cannot come to you with a clearer message than this: If your employer suddenly offers you something they didn’t before, or randomly gives you an increase in wages or benefits, first, take it of course.  Then ask them if they are prepared to guarantee everything you have gotten and will get in the future – in writing.  And ask them if they will guarantee that they will not reduce your hours or let you go for “unforeseen circumstances” or “budget cuts” or “slow business” or any ‘reasonably sounding’ term like that, or for absolutely no reason at all – in writing.  And ask them if they are willing to treat everyone fairly and equally – and put that in writing.  And after you have asked them all of your necessary questions, then ask them the doozie question:  Ask them if they are willing to sign that document and of course give you a copy of it. 

If the answer is “no” to any of your questions, then you absolutely know why you should join the Union.  I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome our newest members from Petee’s Pie Company and Blank Street Coffee, and to all of the workers over the past few months that have chosen to join our Local 1500 family, such as the workers at Foragers Market and Square Roots Growers urban farm.  In all of these cases, workers stuck together and took the important step toward guaranteeing a future where their employer and Local 1500 will work together to ensure the best possible work environment for them.  Thank you for giving us the opportunity to represent you.