Organizing is the life blood of every union. And last week, more than 150 Teamster organizers from across the country gathered in Detroit to strategize on how to educate workers about the value of union membership.
Michigan is a union state and it is a Teamsters state, so not surprisingly we’ve had some success here. Just last month, for instance, 24 contract custodians working at Albion College voted unanimously to join Local 1038. They joined 70 clerical and facility operations workers who are already Teamsters there. Those workers at Albion understand the better wages and benefits that come with union membership.
They aren’t alone. Other recent victories include bus drivers in the Fennville Public Schools and bus assistants in the Lewawee Intermediate School District, as well as police officers in Mattawan and Hartford, Mich. All are now members of Local 214.
Across the United States and Canada, the Teamsters union is growing. But no union can rest on its laurels. Labor is increasingly up against anti-union forces in Michigan and across the nation who want to knock us down. That’s why organizing is so essential. Worker advocates can stand up against corporations and their cronies in elected office by building union density and fighting for good-paying jobs with good health care and retirement benefits.
When faced with an untenable political climate, increasing membership is a way for unions to push back. They can make their voices heard in the fight against globalization and unfair trade agreements. It’s more people to help us partner with unions around the world to stand up against injustice in the workplace as we fight for fairness in the global supply chain and elsewhere.
In fact, unions from the U.S., Canada and Mexico have come together to ensure that NAFTA 2.0 improves the lives of all workers in North America instead of encouraging a race to the bottom.
There are a lot of good reasons to join a union like the Teamsters, and the American public is increasingly recognizing it. In fact, a recent Gallup Poll found that 61 percent of those polled approved of unions, the highest level since 2003. More people also want unions to have greater influence in this country than ever before.
Why is that? Because unions lead the way in things like offering health care benefits. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics unveiled numbers last month showing that 94 percent of private sector union workers have access of employer-provided health care benefits as of this March, compared to only 67 percent of non-union workers.
It also pays to be in a union. The median union worker earns an additional $10,000 a year than the median non-union worker nationwide. That’s a substantial gain that can make a big difference for a family trying to keep a roof over its head and food on the table. And at a time when women and people of color are fighting for fair pay, only union jobs ensure pay equity and fair treatment on the job.
The Teamsters will fight every step of the way to protect workers. Despite many challenges, this union is devoted to tackling them. By organizing workers and improve their lives, workers in Michigan and elsewhere will win. That is the challenge of the union movement.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.