Union leaders: It pays to be organized

Al Goodson Galveston County AFL-CIO Labor Council talks about how and why he joined the union. A panel of union workers gathered recently to talk about the rewards and challenges of membership.

Photo by Jennifer Reynolds

Gather a panel of veteran union workers and the talk turns to better benefits better training and higher pay not just for union members but for all workers.

”So goes the union so goes the economy” said Sam Munn vice president of Galveston County’s AFL-CIO Labor Council. ”If union jobs and wages keep tailing off so will the economy right down the same hill and so will the middle class.”

Munn gathered a panel of union workers to talk about the rewards and challenges of membership. The group included a retired state social worker electricians metal workers and pipe fitters. All serve on the Galveston County AFL-CIO Labor Council.

”My father was a brick layer and worked at Amoco” said Richard Dee business manager for the International Association of Bridge Structural Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local Union 135. ”He said ‘If you want to go somewhere in this world as a blue collar worker find yourself a union like I did.’

”He was right. I’ve done nothing but benefit from it.”

Learning The Legacy

Jane Johnson a member of the Texas State Employees Union did not come from a union family.

”I was scared to death of union people; we thought they were mean people” recalled Johnson a retired state social worker.

She quickly learned the legacy of the labor unions when she entered the work force. ”Labor unions brought about the 40-hour workweek and did away with child labor” she said. ”People just don’t know this.”

Mark Baker business agent for Pipefitters Local Union 211 grew up in Texas City where his father worked for Union Carbide. Baker worked on many projects in the Galveston area including helping install air conditioning in a new hotel called the San Luis Resort.

”It’s a new union today and we’re proud of it and we’re thankful for the members who paved the way for us in the past” he said.

Many Benefits

The panel pointed to a wide list of benefits from union membership including:

Wages are usually higher especially when benefits are calculated. Nationwide union workers’ weekly median earnings are more than 25 percent higher.

For example the Pipefitters Local Union 211 lists the hourly wage of a journeyman as $28.42. A nonunion wage for a similar job might range from $20 to $28.

But the union worker would have added benefits ranging from a national pension program family health care and training with the total package adding up to $38.39.

Nonunion workers might have similar benefits ”but they have to pay for it off their paycheck” said Baker.

Union dues vary according to the local unions and help pay for staff costs as well as pension health welfare and safety funds.

The International Association of Bridge Structural Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local Union 135 has dues of $56 a month which includes $15 for life insurance.

All the panelists are quick to tell teens to consider union membership.

”Not everybody is cut out for college; not everybody can be a doctor or a lawyer — they’re not cut out for it” said Daryl K. Stewart assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 527. ”We need skilled craftsmen.

”People like me Baby Boomers are going away. And when we go away we’ve got to have someone to step in and take this vacuum up.”

Will unions survive the panel was asked.

”God help us if we don’t” said Al Goodson who started union work 62 years ago as a teen.

”You can just go back and look at the history and we’ll be right back like we were at the turn of the century. If we don’t have a say or voice in our conditions then we’ll be working for whatever the guy is willing to give us.”

In those conditions unions would be born again Goodson predicted.

”Things would be so bad we’d come together again and say ‘Enough is enough.’”

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At A Glance

WHAT: Galveston County Labor Council Labor Day Breakfast

WHEN: 9 a.m. today

WHERE: Walter Hall Park League City

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Details

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is a voluntary federation of 55 national and international labor unions.

The AFL-CIO was created in 1955 by the merger of the AFL and the CIO.

The AFL-CIO union movement represents 12.2 million members including 3.2 million members in Working America its community affiliate. Members include teachers miners firefighters farm workers bakers engineers pilots public employees doctors nurses painters and plumbers.

The AFL-CIO is governed by a quadrennial convention at which all AFL-CIO members are represented by delegates elected by their fellow union members. These delegates set broad policies and goals for the union movement and every four years elect officers who govern the day-to-day work of the AFL-CIO.

State leadership: 51 AFL-CIO-chartered state federations (including Puerto Rico) are led by officers and boards elected by local union delegates.

Local leadership: More than 500 central labor councils also chartered by the AFL-CIO give working people a strong voice in their communities.

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