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California Local Awards Scholarships to Pro-Union Teens

July 23, 2010

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Award winner Kurt Bernardin, center, with his father Russell Bernardin and Koger.

When IBEW leaders from San Bernardino, Calif., Local 543 say that youth are the future of the movement, they don’t just talk about it – they offer young people opportunities and reward their best efforts.

The local recently awarded three students $500 each in scholarship money after winning an annual essay contest for children and grandchildren of IBEW members.

Business Manager Jerry Koger congratulated all recipients “for understanding the reason and necessity for unions in our country, and for being able to put that reasoning into words.”

The theme – “Why Should I Buy Union-Made, American Products?” – resonated personally with the young writers.

Here’s an excerpt from 18-year-old Chance Erwin’s submission. Chance, a recent high school graduate, is the son of Verizon cable splicer Terry Erwin:

I walk into a store and … it feels like I am bombarded by a massive quantity of items that are simply not made to the same quality as that of American products. To me, the value of knowing we pay our workers an honest wage, give them benefits and treat them as respectable humans –  and not like robots or slaves –  is worth the small amount more I pay for an American good. In order to shift our economy back in our favor, we must first rethink the value of putting America first. We must once again value the fact that we are investing in our country, our practices and our ideas.

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Essay contest winner Chance Erwin, left, and San Bernardino, Calif., Local 543 Business Manager Jerry Koger.

Sarah Schrader, a college-bound 17-year-old, is the daughter of ITT Industries technician Larry Schrader. She says, in part:

If we continue with mass consumption of foreign goods, the extinction of U.S. industries will continue at an alarming rate. Once these industries are gone, they will most likely be gone forever, along with the millions of jobs they contain … According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, real wages for working Americans have plummeted 19 percent since 1972. This alarming rate will only continue to increase in the coming years, and the recession we are now in will only worsen because of foreign goods. Buying American-made products is supporting American jobs.

The son of Verizon FIOS technician Russell Bernardin, Kurt Bernardin lays out the historical importance of the labor movement in his piece. Kurt, 19, is a sophomore at Victor Valley College in Southern California:

Nowadays, most people truly don’t know what unions have done for the American society. Everyone out there in the work force enjoys the privileges that unions fought to obtain for years and years; unfortunately, most of us don’t even realize the possibilities we have and we continue to take them for granted. Doesn’t everyone love the fact that they can get overtime after their eight-hour workdays with their 40-hour workweeks? Who doesn’t love the vacation time and sick days? And don’t forget about the much-sought-after health benefits, followed by a retirement plan.

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Scholarship recipient Sarah Schrader, right, and Koger.

The local honored Erwin and Schrader with their scholarships at their respective high schools’ awards ceremonies in June. Bernardin received his award at a local union meeting. The students’ prize money will go toward tuition costs.

Koger said that the scholarship program is a worthwhile investment:

We hope that by investing in our children’s future, we can – in a small way – present to them an alternative to the “corporate America” mindset by promoting the ideas of “unity through union.”