As the Iowa Legislature weakens unions, the rights of workers hang in the balance.
I’ve worked in the social-service field for more than 20 years. This includes direct service, as well as some form of leadership and management. I’ve worked as an educator overseas and at the University of Iowa. Throughout this time, I’ve worked under a union contract once, when I was a social worker at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. After serving seven months as a temp worker there, shortly after completing my M.S.W., I was hired full-time. One of the first actions I took was to join the SEIU 199. The choice was simple. In this field, the commitment to empowering people is not just full-time. We are called upon to extend ourselves beyond our limits, as is the case with other service professions. This is the kind of profession that doesn’t need a vague show of support. We benefit from organizing.
I often hear misleading information suggesting that unions are bad for workers. The fact of the matter is:
1. A Pew Research study released just this year indicated that 60 percent of Americans have a favorable view of unions; this increases to 75 percent for younger people.
2. Union workers have better wages and working environments, as reported by the Bureau of National Statistics.
3. Census data reflect that, in states where unions are more present, the middle class earns more.
I offer these points as an illustration why union membership is meaningful to me. For example, when my son was born, I wasn’t able to take paternity leave; this should have been an option. I was fortunate to be able to make accrued vacation that didn’t mix in with my needed sick-day benefits. Now, with the Iowa Legislature’s weakening of unions, men facing this situation may be forced to choose between taking unpaid leave or not taking leave at all, if they have any paid leave to take. This is just one example. It shouldn’t be this way. From my days as a hospital janitor to video technician to university faculty, I’ve served this state with pride, and my best working experiences have been when I was a union member and had a strong contract won by our collective voice. When workers organize, they win.
— Stephen Cummings,
clinical assistant professor and director of Distance Education