Sunday, August 17, 2014

Labor Day 2014: Reflecting On My Own Labor History Chapter 1

Although I recognize May 1st as the true day to celebrate Labor Solidarity, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on my personal and family background in the labor movement that has shaped my ideology when it comes to labor issues. I have split it into chapters for length. This is chapter 1:

My grandfather, Melvin Turner, was a member of the United Auto Workers in Michigan until he passed away in a tragic car accident in 1968. As a child, I remember my grandmother showing me a bible given to her with an inscription from the UAW Local. It was a small gesture, but the solidarity shown to my grandmother by her husband's union family has always stuck with me.

My first personal experience as a union member was at the age of 19, when I went to work at the VA Hospital in Dallas, TX. Having grown up in a historically anti-union state, I didn't have a lot of knowledge regarding my collective bargaining rights, or the benefits of being a union member. I signed my membership card for AFGE Local 2437, and went about my business.

It wasn't until a few years later that I would get actively involved in union activity. Like many union members, it took me personally being affected to get me off of the sidelines. We had a supervisor that was transferred in from another location. The supervisor was incompetent, vindictive, and downright nasty. She would openly threaten workers, many of whom were minorities and elderly. They were terrified of losing their jobs if they spoke up.

By this point, I had been taking college courses in the evening, and had chosen Political Science as my major, and had taken an interest in labor issues. I organized the other workers and convinced them that the only way we could succeed was to stand together. I drafted a letter outlining the gross misconduct and after getting every member in our department to sign their names(this took some work), I coordinated with our shop steward to send a copy to the national office. Three days later, the supervisor was removed, and my co-workers and I learned a valuable lesson in sticking together.

Up next: taking on the Veterans Canteen Service.

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