It’s Labor Day here in America, a day set aside to honor those hard working people who built this country. While teaching I always enjoyed this day, a break in the first couple of weeks of school. It would be nine more weeks before the Veteran’s Day holiday would give us another break. Then only a week or so later and we would enjoy Thanksgiving. We longed for those days away from the classroom grind.
Today, I enjoy more freedom. I can shop when I wish. I can stay home on days when there are tasks to accomplish. I can even pack up, in the middle of the week, and take off on a trip anywhere I can pay to travel. All of this freedom because of belonging to a union or working for a company that had a union.
When I worked for the cottonseed processing cooperative, the plant workers had a union contract specifically for cottonseed oil plant workers through the AFofL CIO. Because of the contract, all the office personnel received the same benefits even though we weren’t union members. Those benefits were very good. All health, dental, and vision coverage was paid by the co-op. There was paid sick leave and vacation. Seniority was a BIG deal, and since I was there for over 11 years, I benefited from that, too. Most of the employees stayed their entire lifetime, though. The business was that good. A dear friend of mine who worked there over 20 years is still living on her retirement pension, all co-op paid, after retiring 25 years ago. Yes, it was that good.
People without college degrees, people who worked with their hands and their backs, were paid well and provided well for their families and were able to retire in relative comfort. I took my retirement fund, at age 35, and went back to college to get a teaching credential. I had enough money in that pension plan to live for three years without working. After just 11 years with the co-op. It would take three years of college classes and substitute teaching before I was hired as a full time teacher.
Once I got a full time teaching job, I was again involved with a union. Our big-city school district union was part of California Teacher’s Association (CTA), one of the largest teacher’s unions in the nation. The union saw to it that district back-date my start-date to when I actually started working for the district as a substitute since I became a full time teacher in that same position. The union fought hard and long for our benefits, but as the years passed, those benefits have eroded. Although the workers are working harder than ever, they are getting less and less because unions have lost their grip. New teachers no longer qualify for the early retirement package I was able to take.
My lifestyle today would not be possible if it were not for unions. I am grateful, and on Labor Day, I stop and give thanks for all those who marched and worked for what I thoroughly enjoy.