Why We Do What We Do

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017-2018 IAM Journal.

I’m a union man. I’m in the South. This is why I love what I do.

This job isn’t like other jobs. If I get bored, it doesn’t last long. The extraordinary task we’ve undertaken has a way of rising up to remind us of our purpose and the righteousness of our cause.

My most recent reminder came in the form of people for whom work should be a distant memory. Our district organized members working for Avis/Budget in Augusta, GA. This unit is comprised in large part of senior citizens working part time. One of these senior citizens is Ron, an 85-year-old former police chief from Pittsburgh.

During the campaign, I asked him if the company’s anti-union tactics were influencing him. He responded by saying, “I’m 85 years old. I might not wake up tomorrow. Nothing that company says is going to scare me.”

His resolve was typical of this entire group. They were all more concerned with the mistreatment of others than with their own issues. This was the case with Lisa, a 41-year-old sales agent who was our initial contact. Her main issue was the mistreatment of the senior citizens in the group. Ron and Lisa now comprise a very formidable bargaining committee, and are deep into negotiations for their first contract.

Then there’s Office Remedies in Atlanta. This group is comprised mostly of African-American women. They fought for over a year for their first collective bargaining agreement, which contained in it the first wage increase they had seen in over eight years. It was also my first time negotiating a first contract.

I was uncertain if I had done enough to merit the enormous struggle they had gone through. My answer came the day we met to sign the agreement. As I waited in the cafeteria of the Atlanta Federal Building, one lady after another approached me to thank me for what I had done for them. I reminded them that I was just their spokesperson: they had done the heavy lifting.

Examples such as these, and others too numerous to count, remind me constantly of the honor I feel holding this title. These groups-their plights and their resolve-burnish my determination to represent all my members, and to work for those who are not yet living with the protections of a union contract. They remind me that if you take away the titles, the acronyms, and the union jargon, my job is simple: I help people live better lives. That job will never be boring.