As a young lad ‘up nort’ I remember my parents talking about pensions and health insurance. I didn’t know then they both belonged to unions. Mother was a Steelworker (clerical) and Dad was a UA union plumber. Grandma (who lived with us) was a Teamster, union steward and proud Norwegian immigrant who operated a mangle at the local laundry. She received the union negotiated 2 cents more an hour running the mangle; and was proud of it. Grandpa, also a Teamster and Swedish immigrant, worked as a ‘mover’ for a large union moving company.
Dad had two union pensions and passed his International pension on to my mother when he passed on. Every month my Mother received my dad’s pension ($174.00) plus two other union pensions of her own from the Steelworkers. Get this: My mother also received an additional personal check from the Steelworkers International every 3 months to reimburse her for her Medicare supplemental part “B”. With her union negotiated medical co-pays paid by the Steelworkers she had zero personal costs in her retirement associated with her health care. And something my mother was most proud of was her union negotiated retiree dental insurance. I know because I would take her to the dentist and watch her beam with pride as she informed the receptionist she had union insurance. Mother was 94 when she passed on taking with her … her own teeth. She retired at 60. For 34 years she received these negotiated union retiree benefits.
My parents, grandparents, and their friends, many of whom were union, were progressives in a different sense. They lived their lives making things better for all workers. Sure, they were guided by their unions and rightfully so. The goal they embraced was to make things better for their families. Families included everyone including immigrants … for many of them were.
When I became of age to settle down (?) it was clear I needed some direction. Becoming a union member gave me direction. For about 99% of my work life I have been a union member. As a union member in the early 70s I always joined in spirited discussion with my Brothers and an occasional Sister. Unions have gotten better today about including Sisters. At times we didn’t all agree on how to make things better … but we discussed it. We listened to everybody. When it was time to vote we always voted to make things better. Politically our unions advised us about political candidates who were trying to make things better for our families. For many years now our unions don’t tell us who to vote for; they only mention who supports our issues. Trouble is, unfortunately, labor’s issues and goals have been squashed by the rules, regulations, laws and greed promoted by many of politicians we voted for. It’s time to catch-up.
I belong to more than one union retiree group. Our groups still have spirited discussion on how to make things better for our families. We may disagree (with a smile) but we continue to have the same goals. It’s just too bad we can’t figure out a way to pass our goals and backgrounds on to the union members coming up behind us. May be adoption?
In Solidarity, Bruce Yernberg, Red Wing