Look to unions to rebuild the middle class

By James R. Lister
Special to the Reporter

The history of organized labor is often framed by the battles of the past: the Pullman strike, the coal miners, the fight for the 40-hour work week. It is certainly true that many of the benefits workers receive today were paid for with the blood and sweat of hardworking union members generations ago. However, the impact of unions is not simply the revolutions of the past. Organized labor is the answer to the needs of today’s working families.

Take the story of Dorchester. Many of Greater Boston’s labor unions call Dot home. While the city and the region around us continue to price out many long-time residents, unionized labor has provided Dorchester families with stable incomes, and a way to stay in the neighborhood they love and have helped to build.

This isn’t the story everywhere in America. Union membership has plummeted over the last four decades. And it’s no surprise that the income inequality gap has expanded, and we have seen the middle class shrink. Workers are being forced into unfair agreements, being asked to do more with less. We’ve seen a surge in the underground economy, resulting in massive income tax fraud and wage theft, and in the gig economy, which leaves workers to fend for themselves with no protections. 

Employers are chipping away at vital, hard-earned benefits like healthcare and retirement. The result is a workforce that’s working more, earning less, and being left high and dry without the safety nets we used to take for granted.

And amidst all of this, people are entering the workforce as young adults, facing massive housing costs, mountainous student debt, and crushing transportation challenges. 

Unions were the answer in the 19th and 20th centuries and they are the solution in the 21st century. 

For workers, being a part of the union means safe working conditions, stronger job protections, and better pay. In supporting the workforce, labor unions grow the economy. These are the keys to financial stability and a foundation to thrive. 

Additionally, labor has been on the front lines of environmentally sustainable building practices. For example, mechanical insulators are proud to partner with companies to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint. Not only does this investment save businesses money, but it also helps the environment. 

Such forward thinking, and a commitment to getting the job done right, is what union labor has always been all about. And this commitment to excellence, training, and opportunity is the way to create the workforce and economy that America will need to stay competitive globally in the 21st century.

At this critical time for working people, we honor the history of the labor movement. But we are also renewed in our commitment to building the economy of the future. We recall our mission: To use our unique position to tackle the challenges of income inequality and a shrinking middle class, and to fight for the middle class.

James R. Lister is the Business Manager / Financial Secretary of Insulators Local No. 6 in Dorchester. 

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