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Commentary: Positive Contributions of Unions

By Pat McCarthy

Buffalo, NY – Three years ago 1199 SEIU and the staff at Children's Hospital worked to keep Children's on Bryant. Without the efforts of the union and the 1,700 unionized workers, Buffalo would have lost a world-class medical facility that has continued to save the lives of Buffalo's children. This facility not only remains on Bryant Street, but it is growing in the range of services it offers, and continues to bolster the local economy. At the time of the Children's fight, 35 percent of the businesses on Elmwood Avenue claimed they would go out-of-business if the hospital closed. It was the efforts of unionized workers that kept the facility open and today allows businesses to thrive because of our patronage.

Here's some other facts worthy of note.

The average worker in a "right to work" state earns about $5,333 less a year than workers in other states. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001)

Hispanic union members earn 45 percent ($180) more a week than nonunion Hispanic workers. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 2002 )

African Americans earn 30 percent ($140) more a week if they are union members. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 2002)

Union women earn 30 percent more ($149) a week than nonunion women. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 2002) In "right to work" states, 21 percent more people are without health insurance compared with those in free-bargaining states. (source: State Rankings 2000, A Statistical View of the 50 United States, Morgan Quinto Press)

"Right to work" states spend $1,699 less per elementary and secondary pupil than other states. (source: Education Vital Signs, 2000-2001 school year)

The infant mortality rate in "right to work" states is 17 percent higher than in other states, and the poverty rate is 12.5 percent compared with 10.2 percent in other states. (source: State Rankings 2000, A Statistical View of the 50 United States, Morgan Quinto Press; U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, March 2002)

The rate of workplace death is 51 percent higher in "right to work" states. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001; AFL-CIO, "Death on the Job," April 2002)

Unions are more than wages, unions effect the quality of work for all people in the states that allow unions to organize. Unions help to raise up the quality of life for all workers not just those who are members of their union.

I would like to dismiss any false notion about who is in charge at unions. We are. The members. The use of the derogatory term "union boss" is offensive. My union president is Dennis Rivera. He was elected in a democratic process where the person who has received the highest votes actually wins and is allowed to serve as president. Florida should take a page out of our election standard book.

The members are on bargaining committees where contracts are negotiated, members are on grievance committees where complaints against management are addressed, and members serve as delegates in the facilities representing the members in the workplace. The members have the power.

We are strong because all 250,000 members statewide stand up for one another in solidarity. Unions still keep the interest of the workers in mind, they protect our rights and safety and still play a vital role in workplaces. We are stronger together.

Listener-commentator Pat McCarthy is a nurse at Women and Children's Hospital and a member of 1199 SEIU.