May 24, 2013
Three stories of real Americans
Millions of Americans exercise their right to take part in a union every year. Unions make the middle class strong by ensuring that workers have a strong voice in our economy and our democracy. But union membership is declining, and the middle class is shrinking.
La Tonya’s Story
La Tonya Johnson lives in Milwaukee, WI, where she has for several years operated an in-home daycare center for low-income kids. When Wisconsin childcare workers won the right to form a union in 2006, having a voice and a contract gave her a shot at maintaining a middle class life. “I was able to pay my mortgage. I wasn’t facing foreclosure, and life was relatively comfortable,” says La Tonya. That all changed when Gov. Scott Walker launched his now infamous and ultimately successful attacks on collective bargaining in 2011. But it wasn’t the end of La Tonya’s story.
Beresford Simmons has been a taxi cab driver in New York City for 45 years. When taxi cab drivers there, classified as independent contractors, overcame that to form the Taxi Workers Alliance, they secured middle class wages and health benefits. “We’re not just fighting for our members, we’re fighting for cab drivers in general,” says Beresford. “I’m pleased that the union is giving me an incentive to achieve, in this capitalistic system, the goals that America promises.”
Susan’s and Jeremy’s Stories
Jeremy Pikser and Susan Kim are both writers in New York City. Jeremy is VP of the Writers Guild of America East and Susan is also a Guild member. “Most of us are extremely middle class people, pretty much struggling to get back on freelance work,” says Susan. “Having union coverage makes all the difference in the world” to writers ability to earn fair pay for fair work and health benefits. “Had it not been for the fact that the Writers Guild has been able to negotiate with the producers a really good health insurance plan,” Jeremy says he probably would not have survived cancer. Susan credits the Guild contract with protecting past gains for writers “because you have more power when you’re bargaining collectively.”
The next time someone questions what difference unions make in the lives of American workers, today, let these videos help you tell the story of how unions make the middle class.