Top of the Morning, Sept. 1, 2014: From the archives

Top of the Morning, Sept. 1, 2014: From the archives

For 120 years, Labor Day has been a recognized national holiday.

The U.S. Department of Labor says the day "is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country."

I asked some workers to relate what union membership meant to them.

From a university lecturer to a firefighter, a grain-mill operator to a high school biology teacher, a sheet-metal worker to a school psychologist, and more, here are their answers.

"I've been a historian and university teacher for over thirty years now. During the past year, I've helped with organizing Local 6546 AFT/IFT, Champaign County's newest union. Our group of non-tenure-track faculty at the U of I is building a community of professionals who want to improve higher education. We have come a long way in the last year and that is what I'm celebrating on Labor Day 2014."

Dorothee Schneider
Lecturer, Department of History, University of Illinois
Member, Local 6546 AFT/IFT

"What I like about the unions is that you have benefits and it's fair for the labor force. It gives you a fair wage for your areas; also, it gives you the great benefits of retiring. It also keeps the companies honest; they can't fire you for no reason and you have protection from the unions. I also like that unions are the Union body which is the employees that work there they make the unions and everyone has a great ideal."

Lee Bennett, Alvin
Process operator, Quaker Oats, Danville
Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International, Local 347

"My union insures that all teachers and education support staff can professionally teach and protect students without fear of job retaliation. Unions empower employees by allowing them to have a voice in their wages and working conditions, which translates into a better-quality education for all students."

Germaine Light, Urbana
High school biology teacher
Regions 8 & 9 Illinois Education Association-Retired

"I supported the GEO when I was a community member. Now that I'm a student, I know that without the union, many would be at risk of losing their tuition waiver, which means not being able to afford going to school. Unions are a foundation of fair treatment for workers in America."

elizaBeth Simpson
UI Graduate Employees' Organization (AFT/IFT Local 6300)

"The reason I am proud to be a member of the International Association of Firefighters and a part of organized labor is because it allows me to serve my community, while doing so in as safe of a manner as possible, with a fair and negotiated wage, so that I can provide for my family. I'm convinced that there's no better job than being a firefighter, especially because of the support you receive from one another and the reward you get from helping someone in the community during what could possibly be their greatest time of need."

Ryan Allison, Catlin
Danville firefighter
International Association of Firefighters Local 429

"When you are part of a union, you are no longer just another disposable worker, you are a person. I was better informed, better educated, more fulfilled and less frustrated when I belonged to a union."

Karen Medina
Common Ground Food Co-op
Former member of AFSCME, National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, GEO

"Being an active member of our union has deepened my appreciation for the hard work our sisters and brothers do for us: making sure our contracts are fair, working with members to solve issues on the job, and the day-to-day conversations they have with their co-workers. I love the work of building our union and seeing our strength increase as the Next Wave builds on the foundation set by our experienced members."

Nadja Robot, Urbana
UI office support associate
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3700

"I feel privileged and honored to be a part of a union who has fought so hard for our rights as hardworking people. I could not imagine where we would be without them. THANK YOU."

Tammy Benson, Westville
Tax extension specialist, Vermilion County
IBEW local 21

"My union Local 3700 has a great president and chief union steward that makes sure everyone is treated with respect."

Jerri Lyn Beck
Staff clerk
AFSCME Local 3700

"The United Steel Workers have given me the opportunity to educate myself and fellow union brothers and sisters. The labor movement has taught me the most precious thing I have is my word."

Michael Dodge
Corn processor, Bunge Milling, Danville

"I am proud to be associated with Champaign Federation of Teachers. CFT Local 1925 works hard to ensure a safe, productive learning environment for teachers and students. We sponsor events to help Champaign grow and prosper as a community."

Michelle Anderson, Savoy
Edison Middle School, Champaign
Membership chairwoman, CFT Local 1925

"A union is the most critical component of labor in this country because it provides the worker with both protection from abuse, exploitation, and discrimination from owners/employers and a thunderous, collective, counterhegemonic voice that advances agency in overcoming oppression in an unfair market environment. In other words, a union reinforces the very human rights that all workers collectively deserve."

Augustus Wood III, Urbana
UI graduate student worker
GEO

"I appreciate my union for the support they provide to all educational staff. They allow for honest and ongoing discourse about fair working conditions and respectable wages. They also bring a sense of comradery to the workplace."

Kevin Farrell, Champaign
School psychologist
Champaign Federation of Teachers Local 192

"Better training, better wages, better living."

Guy Grant, Champaign
UI sheet-metal worker
Sheet-metal workers Local 218

"Being a union member means that I'm a part of a united group. A group of everyday hardworking people, who still have a fighting chance against greed and exploitation, to secure a dignified and healthy existence for themselves and their families."

Aaron Ammons, Champaign
UI building service worker
President, Service Employees International Union Chapter 119

"The union has helped me provide a good living for me and my family."

Frank Rubenecker, Dewey
Electrician
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 601

"It means to me working for a fair contractor that provides me the opportunity to provide for my family, that I would not otherwise be afforded."

Jeromy Spesard, Ridge Farm
UI pipefitter
Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 149

"Because of my union, I know that I have a dedicated group of brothers and sisters that will always stand by my side. Even after I have retired from this profession, they will still be there for me!"

Matt Kelly, Tuscola
UI pipefitter
Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 149

"My grandfather used his union pension to help me make ends meet while I worked my way through college."

Ryan Latvaitis, Urbana
UI office support associate
AFSCME Local 3700

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