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Most of us have a morning routine. Wake up, take a shower, make sure the kids are up and getting ready for school. Soon enough, everyone is fed and dressed and ready to head out the door to start the day. In a city like Philadelphia, most of us choose public transit to get to and from work every day. So, like thousands of other Philadelphians, you get on SEPTA and drop the kids off at school. As they enter those doors, they are greeted by their teacher. Minutes later, you might be at your local coffee shop, grabbing your morning coffee.
By the time you arrive at work in the morning, you have likely interacted with multiple union workers. Your SEPTA driver is a member of TWU Local 234, your child’s teacher is a member of PFT Local 3, and that Starbucks barista who makes your latte just right is likely bargaining for a contract as a member of Starbucks Workers United.
Across the region, we are seeing union activity on the rise. Earlier this year, Temple University Graduate Students undertook a historic strike which gave them a huge contract win. At the airport, UNITE-HERE members at OTG are owed nearly $300,000 after management refused to implement an already agreed-upon contract. These workers are refusing to stay quiet and have staged pickets and rallies calling on their employer to pay them what they are owed.
Union work can look like a lot of different things. For one, workers at a local Starbucks informed me that they are the ones forced to clean up used needles and blood in the bathroom. Penn Resident and Graduate Resident Assistants, who are on the frontline dealing with things as heavy as college students in a mental health crisis, are not acknowledged by the university’s administration as workers, rather Penn calls them “student leaders.”
In a city that prides itself on being the “City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection,” it should come as no surprise that so many of us involved in the city’s labor movement feel so strongly about our union siblings and their working conditions. Unlike think tanks and research foundations, union members and their families make a point to show up and out for our union siblings. The most radical way to show love for your co-workers is to unionize, which is why our unions are so vital to the civil and economic landscape of this city.
Now, as we head into general election season, the phrase “union interests” is starting to appear more often. Oftentimes, that simple two-word phrase comes with negative connotations with little consideration for the working men and women whose interests the unions represent.
Let me make one thing clear: Unions and our interests are not going away. In fact, we are stronger than ever. A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute shows that unionization is at its highest point in decades, and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Unions are diversifying, with more women and people of color joining our ranks every day. Our numbers are growing and expanding into more and more fields.
Our strength is growing, and we won’t slow down. So, when you talk of union interests, you must be clear about what you are referring to.
Shall I fill you in?
There is crisis after crisis in the Philadelphia School District, and PFT members are the front line dealing with everything from gun violence to asbestos. Philadelphia teachers, school staff and students deserve a safe place to learn. That is a union interest.
Our transit workers see first hand the dangers and trauma of the opioid epidemic and the housing crisis. We rely on TWU Local 234 members to get us around town. A safe public transit system is a union interest.
As you make your plan to vote in the upcoming election, remember who supports you and your family every day. It is not a millionaire CEO or the Vice President of a right-wing think tank. It’s your co-workers, your neighbors, and your friends.
The most radical and selfless thing a worker can do is form a union, it not only betters themselves but every worker around them.
Union members are everywhere, and our interests are the interests of not only the over 150,000 workers we represent, but of all Philadelphians.
Daniel P. Bauder is President of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO representing over 100 local unions in the Philadelphia area.
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