Community Voices

Sunday, Sep 15 2013 11:00 PM

VICTOR MARTIN: Union members know why they pay dues: Their own betterment

In response to Mark Mix's Sept. 1 op-ed article, "Labor Day not Union Day," consider this. Yes, unions charge dues, but laborers know up front what they are paying those dues for: their betterment and the right to stand tall and say "I am union and damned proud of it."

Unions have had a major impact in getting workers health insurance, overtime pay, the abolishment of child labor, sick days, vacations, 40 hour work weeks, family medical leave, safety programs, pensions, grievance procedures, apprenticeships and prevailing wage considerations.

We are not forced to pay dues; we know to get the lifestyle we have we are required to pay dues. Union members can afford new cars, a home for their families and basic necessities and are still able to enjoy a few luxuries and give back to their communities.

I believe with all my heart that without unions we'd have workers making $1 an hour as in a lot of countries. I have no problem paying a little to have so much.

Mix's declaration that Labor Day is about celebrating workers, not union bosses, is very true. The backbone of any union is its hard working members, not the union officers. I would ask Mix and others like him, what has "right to work" truly provided?

Answer: the weakening and deterioration of the middle class and the widening of the gap between those who have and those who have not. Without unions there would only be rich and poor, no middle class. Some companies do in fact care about their employees, but most care only about how much more they can profit.

Workers sometimes choose not to join unions mainly out of fear of retaliation, cuts in hours and the potential firing of outspoken workers. In the private sector unions do not try to run the company like union busters say they do; we are there for the protection and the needs of our members. And if the company is doing something unfair to its members, we give workers a voice and the power to fight back.

I recently spoke with a group of workers who had gone five weeks without being paid. Their plight is precisely why workers need union representation.

Like any organization, unions are not perfect, but ask union members if they would rather be non-union and I can assure you that overwhelmingly they would say "hell no." I have been a union member for 34 years and I have seen the good times and the bad times,but overall I am very proud to be union.

How many workers can individually represent themselves against their company's management? They do not have the resources. And how right is it that companies can require workers to attend meetings where union activity is discussed but unions do not have the same opportunity? That is a big advantage for companies trying to keep unions out. Hard-working employees deserve union representation and the benefits those unions afford.

Unions are about giving back. Paying dues allows us to continue to give back to our communities and our nation. Unions, along with our military, have made this country strong.

I pray that our government representatives will see the light and realize without unions we would have as many workplace injustices in the U.S. as foreign workers have abroad.

Our forefathers died so we would have the right to form labor unions. I believe they did not die in vain.

Victor Martin of Bakersfield has been a member of Laborers Local 220 for 28 years and the Laborers' International Union of North America for 34 years. He now serves as a delegate to the Kern County Building Trades Council. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.

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