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November 2013

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Sounding the Alarm

I have been a union member most of my life, as was my father and one of my sons, and I cannot tell you how appreciative I am for what unions have done for me and my family. I have tried to repay that with being an active, supporting member.

However, I have grave concerns about our future. If unions are to survive, they are going to have to reach out beyond their own memberships and educate people as to who and what we are. The Republicans seem to do all the talking as to why folks shouldn't belong and obviously the decline in membership demonstrates that they are winning in that respect. We can attempt all the organizing we want but we need the support of the greater population and we aren't getting it and will not get it if we don't invest in our future by educating the populace at large.

I live in Illinois and I believe schools are supposed to include labor history as part of their curriculum but I haven't seen us try to provide an accurate depiction. Unions aren't perfect but they are much better than letting the local capitalist make all the decisions and we need to admit to our shortcomings when we do our educating.

The Democrats have (by and large) turned their backs on us, except for our checks, and they look like the Republicans of the '60s and it seems we do little to hold their feet to the fire for labor-friendly legislation. I also believe we should form a third party, a working people's party, to represent us in Congress.

I'm sure all my comments will fall on deaf ears, as they have for the past 25 years. If we had started then, we wouldn't be where we are now. And if we don't start now, we won't be here in another 25.

Ron Erickson, Local 364 retiree
Rockford, Ill.

Missed Opportunities

I am a recently retired IBEW member who worked as an inside wireman in Alaska and California. I always believed that hard work pays off and that everyone gets recognized equally. After years of trying to break the concrete ceiling, I look at my smaller pension and realize that I was mistaken.

There are different institutionalized standards applied to women and men. For the most part I do not think the actions were deliberate, but I am sure that every working woman out there can tell of incidences where it was direct and deliberate.

When the guys got the overtime (because they had families to feed) or got the less arduous jobs, I was a team player. For the good of the union and the unity of the job, I stuck it out hoping that the next day and or next job would be better.

Because usually there are few women on the jobs, a woman can feel isolated. In those instances when there are problems, you feel that you have to be tough and not show weakness by complaining. I often held my tongue so I would not be labeled a troublemaker.

With the economy starting to pick up, I often get the urge to go back to work. Sure I enjoyed the work and how I built things and trouble-shot items and figured out problems but the everyday hassle wore me down. Why would I want my abilities questioned every day?

To all men working as wiremen, don't dismiss your fellow women workers. Don't hold a grudge against them and think they are holding a job reserved for a guy. They got that job because they met certain standards. Don't leave them out on training. Include them in work issues, make them part of your team. If we have skills and experience and put in the time, consider us as potential fore-persons. Numerous times when layoffs were announced, I was the first one on the list while others who had either missed a lot of work or who I had out-performed were the last ones to leave the job.

Today with the threats of nonunion and foreign competition, our union cannot afford to lose out on the contributions of all its members.

Brenda M. Altman, Local 1547 retiree
San Francisco

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Union Proud

I am proud wife of a Kitchener, Ontario, Local 804 member. My husband, Peter Goodall, his father, Jim Goodall and his uncle, John Goodall, are all brothers. They wouldn't have it any other way. The union has been amazing to my husband when I was sick in the hospital. Thank you for the brotherhood.

Katelyn Goodall, wife of Local 804 member Peter Goodall
Kitchener, Ontario