Steffanie Rivers

Have you ever tried to negotiate with your employer for better pay, better working conditions or to fight an unfair termination only to realize your lone voice of reason had little to no affect? That’s probably about the same time you wished there was a labor union to help voice your grievances.

Most people underestimate the value of labor union representation until it’s too late. Now Wisconsin residents have been added to that list, after state legislators there voted to revoke collective bargaining rights of public sector employees.

With a population of only 5.6 million people, what’s going on in Wisconsin might seem of no consequence to the rest of the country. You might even be asking yourself ‘why should I care?’ Your cause for concern has nothng to do with the fact that this
year’s Super Bowl champs are from Green Bay; it has everything to do with – in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The Wisconsin state assembly said it voted to end collective bargaining as a way to cut the state budget. Regardless of the reason, there are 355,000 Wisconsin residents who no longer have union representation to help negotiate their rights. That comes to only 7% of that state’s population, apparently a segment too insignificant to consider. But that’s the reason labor unions and collective bargaining is needed in the first place.

Unions were created in an era where most of its membership worked in the manufacturing sector. Eventhough most of those jobs have been replaced by jobs in the technology field, unions still have a role to play when it comes to ensuring fair wages
and other common interest employee concerns. Women and other minorities who oftentimes find themselves being paid less and treated more unfairly than their white male counterparts, have needed this representation most of all. Yet labor unions have a poor track record when it comes to recruiting this segment of the workforce. According to the U.S. Department of Labor
Statistics, 15 million people or roughly 30% of Americans are represented by unions.Nationally, people of color account for 30% of all union workers. Women account for about 45% of the membership.

If for no other reason than self preservation, union members everywhere have a stake in what happens in Wisconsin. During the country’s slow economic recovery, there’s sure to be some ammenties employees will have to do without, but the right to
union representation shouldn’t be one of them.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex.  Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. See the video version of her journal at youtube.com/steffanierivers.