"My union story started long before I was born. My father was a union man and the benefits he received from that membership paid the bills and ensured good medical coverage for all of us, while also allowing my mom to be a stay at home mother. I have continued that tradition by serving on the Mahopac Teachers' Association Executive Council for sixteen years. To say that union is in my blood is no understatement.
I could share examples of standing on the picket line with my father or joining the picket lines of men and women we didn't know. I could regale you with stories of hard fought victories and vicious battles with management. I won't. In each of those stories, unions stood together when they needed to, combating the overwhelming power of corporations and management through solidarity. The truth of my union story lies at a time when I worked without a union around me, but with union in my soul.
I was still living at home and commuting to college when I took a part-time job at a local lumber yard. Hard work and a belief in a fair exchange of labor soon rewarded me with a full time position to balance against a full time college class load. The yard was vast, dangerous and poorly maintained. Not long after going full time, I was made assistant foreman and made the transition into management.
The men now under my care were twice my age and desperately needed the jobs they held. They had no union and feared that any complaint or disruption might cost them their livelihoods. I spoke almost daily with my father, asking for guidance. I knew what I needed to do, but what I really lacked was the courage to act. I didn't fear the risk for myself. I feared that my actions could harm the very men I was trying to protect. I spoke to management and tried all I could to cajole them into fixing at least some of the danger. I was ignored.
I researched OSHA regulations for weeks and formulated my plan. I drafted a letter that cited the numerous violations that existed. I included printed photos. I made clear that if ownership and the Chief Financial Officer did not meet with me immediately on my return, the same letter would find its way to local Assemblymen, Senators and the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration. I left a copy on the manager's desk and left for a three day vacation. I gave the other copies of the letter to my father and asked him to mail them if I was terminated. He knew I was fearful that I might balk at sending them and he would help bolster my resolve.
Upon my return to work, I was summoned to the manager's office and his words still stick with me to this day. Holding up the letter, he said sternly, "I should fire you for this." I had anticipated this and had spent the last three days pondering my response. With all the determination I could muster, I responded, "Be my guest. Just know that I am a man of my word. Those letters will go out. I will bring a civil suit against the company. So, I would advise you choose your next words very carefully."
The meeting with the ownership and the CFO occurred later that day. They closed large portions of the yard until safety standards could be improved. No one lost their job. No one lost their life.
I had never felt more alone than I had at the time. As I have grown older, I realize that wasn't true at all though. I had my father, a union man, standing in solidarity with me. More importantly, I had millions of union members throughout history standing with me, a non-union shop worker. The safety regulations that I used to leverage better conditions had come into existence because of the fight that union men and women battled long before me. Those regulations remained because of the union men and women who stood sentinel over them at the time. Those regulations will only continue to protect people while union men and women stand together.
I was not alone that day. I am not alone today. We are never alone when we are a union."