Can you imagine a world where the word “weekends” wasn’t even part of our vocabulary? Or safety? Or health care and retirement benefits? I can’t. Mothers would not be able to be mothers and take care of their young. Fathers would not be able to be fathers to come home and eat a meal with their families. Children would not be able to be children and to go out to playgrounds with their friends and have fun and just be… children. People would go to work not thinking, “I wonder if little Johnny is making friends at soccer practice?” but “Can I make it out alive tonight?” In fact, they might not even have time to eat dinner – or even lunch – for that matter.
In 1911, the tragic Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire incident killed more than 100 immigrant women – both young and old. What did the women ever do to deserve it? They didn’t. The fire incident brought light to the working conditions of workers everywhere, and unions strived to alleviate those issues, and the unions did; the labor force now does not need to have safety at the forefront of their minds. Today’s unions are not focusing on unsafe working conditions but on job security and economic stability. The union exists to protect its members against gender equality and racial discrimination. Unions are currently working towards wage equality. For every dollar in a white man’s paycheck, a woman would earn approximately 77 cents in the United States according to Forbes.com. Lisa Maatz, the policy director at the American Association of University Women says, “Unions have always been very good for women in terms of getting their wages and benefits up to par.” It is the unions that help improve this gender wage gap, and they are still working hard to make that gap disappear. For every dollar in a white man’s paycheck, 23 cents are lost in a woman’s paycheck. As the paychecks stack up, the 23 cents will lead to thousands of dollars. To put it into perspective, when a white man earns 100,000 dollars on an annual paycheck, the woman would have earned just a mere 77,000 dollars. That is a total of 23,000 dollars! Those 23,000 dollars could have been used towards children’s education, family meals, basic necessities and even on vacation days that every person in the labor force earns for working hard and diligently. Now consider the following: Women would not even have the opportunity of earning the 77,000 dollars to begin with if not for the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972. And who pushed for it? That’s right: Unions.
Unions have improved the welfare of American citizens in more ways than one. They pushed for higher minimum wages, shorter work weeks and hours, and sexual harassment laws to name a few. Unions have improved the quality of life for many – for everyone, not just union members. Can you imagine a life where you wake up and ask yourself why you are working when there isn’t a good payoff to expect? Or why you can’t see little Johnny’s soccer game against his team’s number one rival? Or why you have to balance between work and health rather than work and leisure? Unions exist for one reason and one reason only: to serve the people – to serve us – for a better life and better welfare.
NOTE: This was my scholarship essay for the Amalgamated Transit Union.