Unions help, don’t hurt, the economy

I recently read Kristine Lowder’s Oct. 3 letter to the editor. As a retired member of the Operating Engineers, Local 302, I take particular issue with respect to her perspective on “Right to Work.”

As a retired union member I can assure you that unionism is not the reason for a failed economy. Understand, that the union afforded me living-wage employment for almost 30 years. The union also provided me with training opportunities to ensure that I had the skills necessary to perform efficiently and effectively in the construction arena. I take particular issue with comments about “forced-unionism” and its alleged ill-effects on employment growth. While the comments were directed at the public sector, they are ill-advised. Unionizing is a right of every worker seeking to have the benefit of having an entity to bargain on their behalf and protect them if they are wronged. I can assure you that once you cross the border from Washington into another state such as Idaho you will see a significant reduction in your wages.

People tend to forget the fact that unions are not the reason for a decrease in jobs, but instead, they are the reason for an increase in a fair, family-wage to ensure that you can provide for your family and that you have health benefits. Prior to union organization workers were exploited and required to work six to seven days a week. Unions, in essence, ensured that you had a weekend off to spend with your family and tend to your personal business.

As for “Right to Work,” be clear, while it is a good slogan to chant it truly means that you have the right to work for less. Everyone already has the right to work. As such, everybody should also have the right to be represented by a union. The union’s responsibility is to fairly represent its membership and ensure that workers are paid appropriately and treated fairly. In a “Right to Work” state a unionized company’s members are not required to pay the union dues that are necessary to ensure for good representation. Truth be told, even those who opt to not pay into the union in these states are still represented by the onion.

My take on things is that fair is fair. If you want to enjoy the benefits and wages that the union has fought to ensure for the membership that it is the workers’ responsibility to proudly contribute for the services they are provided. This is not a public vs. private sector issue. This is an issue of your individual rights to be represented by a union whose job it is to ensure that you get the best deal they can negotiate with an employer. Remember, a union company, is signatory (agrees to) a contract between them and the union membership to provide and perform a service. The service is skilled labor.

My particular union has taken it upon themselves to ensure that they provide the most highly-skilled employees possible. We have a 1,600-acre training school that the membership has full and free access to in order to enhance and improve our skills. We understand the fact that if the contractor isn’t working then neither are we. To that end, the union fights hard to ensure for job creation and employment growth. They lobby at all levels of government to ensure that work continues and new projects and future work remains on the horizon.

In closing, unionism is not a bad word. As to “forced-unionism,” as I said before, I take particular issue with because unions exist to fill a void in providing for some of the most highly trained workers on the market. Please do not tarnish unionism as the reason for a tough economy. Unions exist for the cause of representing workers and ensuring that at the end-of-the-day we have the best wages and benefits that we can negotiate with an employer.

Robert Criswell is a resident of Montesano