In 150 words or less—accompanied by a picture of you at work…Help us walk in your shoes. We’re open to all union members, active, retired, laid off.
“We want rank and file members to help us to illustrate the rich, diverse tapestry of hard working men and women who make up the American labor movement. They are proud of their work and proud of the contributions they make to their communities,” explains Union Label Department President Richard Kline. “We want to demonstrate to American consumers and businesses that union labor gives added value in quality and reliability to products and services that are bought and sold.”
The pictures and stories we get will be published in the Label Letter and posted on the Department’s website—and perhaps in posters and other promotional materials. E-mail a Walk in Your Shoes to: firstname.lastname@example.org; or send by regular mail to:
Walk In My Shoes,
c/o Union Label & Service Trades Dept. (AFL-CIO),
815 16th St. NW,
Washington, DC 20005
I was dreaming to come to the U.S. 27 years ago, while still a college student in Bangladesh. From 1990 to 2006, I applied every year to the Diversity Visa Lottery System until finally being granted immigration status along with my two kids. Today, the oldest one is at NYU, studying to be an engineer. As a former Botany professor, I am very proud and teach him about respect and care for the environment.
As a Yellow Taxi cab driver, I often think of how the city streets are designed, traffic flow, and how these things might be improved. While taking passengers from one place to another, I like to introduce myself to everybody and strike up conversations. The interested customers ask me about where I’m from and I tell them about my journey.
Expenses are high but being a union member of NYTWA helps me fight for better rights on the job, earnings, and a better life—the reasons I came to this country. Recently, I had open-heart surgery and had to return to driving part-time only 3 months later to make ends meet. Next year, the first Benefits Fund for taxi drivers will provide disability insurance to those like myself who become sick and temporarily cannot work.
In 2006, after losing a job as an IT professional, a friend suggested I try to get a job with Super Shuttle. I applied and received my “franchise” license. Of course, it’s not really a franchise – I can’t sell it to anyone and once you’ve paid them back for your license, you have nothing to show for it, not even an ownership certificate. On the other hand, Super Shuttle can sell as many of their licenses as they want – no limit for them, making our licenses mean nothing. We can end up sitting in the airport 15-18 hours a day. We have to pay them fees for our license; we have to pay them insurance; and, we have to pay gas and tolls. At the end of the week, we end up with nothing to show for our work. It became too much. When we brought our problems to the attention of Super Shuttle, they just didn’t listen. They say we’re independent contractors, but we’re not.
We got a lawyer and organized ourselves. In our first attempt to make changes a few years ago, the NLRB failed to decide anything meaningful for us. This time, our lawyer contacted the union. Around 80 or 90 percent of our drivers have signed authorization cards and the NLRB is hearing arguments on whether we’re “contractors.” Hopefully, we’ll get our election soon.
Benhene and his fellow Super Shuttle drivers at BWI and nearby Reagan National Airport in Washington DC have filed for union recognition under UFCW Local 1994. Remarkably, they’ve mobilized nearly 90 percent of their fellow drivers to sign authorization cards. Benhene is a U.S. citizen who immigrated from Africa 16 years ago.
My name is Ashley and I am a housewife. I live in Missouri with my husband and three babies. My husband, Clint, is an Ironworker and I love to brag to anyone I meet that he is a member of the Ironworkers Local 10. Before we met, my knowledge of organized labor was based exclusively on the Disney film “The Newsies.” Over the last 10 years, Clint has filled me in on a lot of the details.
As member of a Union family, I have experienced all the benefits of the association and literally thank God everyday for Clint’s union. He works long days doing grueling work. Every morning, I pack his lunch and set out his sunscreen, but what really keeps him protected throughout the day are the safety standards enforced on the job and education he received as an apprentice in the Union.
While he is at work, I tend the children, take them to doctor’s appointments, clean our house, take the car in to have the oil changed, grocery shop, cook meals for our family, etc. We go without a lot of the “wants” of the world—I coupon like crazy, we don’t have cable, we shop at garage sales and thrift stores—but Clint is able to provide for a family of five without going into debt or accepting government assistance because his union bargained for him to earn a living wage.
Clint has been saving for retirement for 18 years because he’s in a union. We can afford to take our kids to the doctor because his insurance through Local 10 is great. Thanks to the labor movement, Clint’s usual workday is only eight hours, which means I get him on a few hours of R&R each evening before going to bed, waking up, and doing it again.
Ironworkers dangle—usually from great heights—to weld steel for buildings and other erections, all while wearing belts and harnesses so heavy I can’t lift them.
Ironworkers are American Heroes. They have built all of the iconic structures in the country. They make bridges safe. At great personal danger, they worked in the recovery after 9/11.
I could go on and on.
At home family is always number one. With the Ironworkers at Clint’s company—it’s the same. They are family. They all look out for one another at work and off the job.
Clint fell and sustained a serious neck injury that left him unable to work for several months. His co-workers pooled a fund to send us for Christmas that year. I bawled my eyes out with gratitude at the time, but it’s just what you do when you’re part of a family. Now we feel so fortunate to be able to pay it forward to others in need.
Today, the Labor Movement is one of my passions. In addition to being my husband’s biggest cheerleader, I love being a part of a cause that brings working class families together to increase the quality of life for everyone. Union values are synonymous with what we teach our children at home: work hard, stick together, be nice, share, be safe.
The Labor movement is our lifestyle because it has blessed our family in so many ways. I am passionate about organizing as many workers as possible so that every working family can enjoy the same quality of life. God bless working class families—we’re all in this together!
Coming out of high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but my mom called up the Department of Labor and asked for a list of all the available apprenticeships in Maryland. By pure luck, I ended up in the IBEW Local 24’s program. It appealed to me because the wages were good and steadily increased for the entire five years of my apprenticeship. I didn’t know many people in Baltimore who made wages like that. I wanted to make sure I held onto what I was earning. I followed the lead of journeyman electricians around me and invested my earnings, buying houses in Baltimore with an eye to becoming a businessman. That got me more involved in the local community.
Meanwhile, to preserve my foundation, I got involved in the union’s activities. I volunteered for events. I attended union meetings. I went to the parties. Three weeks out of my apprenticeship, the Local 24 business
manager asked me to come on staff. I became only the second African American on their staff and a young one, too (in my 20s surrounded by a lot of 50-somethings).
When Ernie Grecco, the president of the Metro Baltimore Council of the AFLCIO, decided to rejuvenate the Young Trade Unionists, he asked my business manager to put me on the organization. Becoming a part of that organization broadened my horizons. I saw the wider world of labor.
My business manager shifted my direction. The whole experience overall, I’ve gained a new sense of what our local community needs. I’m active in Baltimore, I’m active in the IBEW and I’m active in the Young Trade Unionists. If my mom hadn’t made that call to the Dept. of Labor, I don’t know where I’d be today.
John Bratcher, National Air Traffic Controllers Association—NATCA /FSM; Ft Smith Air Traffic Control Tower/ Razorback Approach
I’m often asked what it’s like to be an air traffic controller and what it means to do something high stressed. I summarize it in three thoughts: amazing, a privilege and a rush. Controllers work 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day; late nights, early mornings, weekends and holidays. We have to be 100 percent, all the
time. In our world there is no acceptable mistake. The flying public demands perfection and we strive for it every day.
I grew up wanting to be a controller. Knowing I’m responsible for thousands of lives every day makes me feel honored to plug in and call myself an air traffic controller. Being part of a profession that’s the epitome of professionalism is truly special. NATCA is more than just a labor union—it’s my family. At work I know my union family is helping me do my job as a Union Air Traffic Controller!
I am a union musician. I am a member of the American Federation of Musicians Local 447-70.
I am a solo bagpiper performing at those most memorable moments from weddings, to memorial services, to holiday parties.
As a professional musician I spend my days practicing and preparing new music for upcoming performances.
I don’t have holidays off, I work sick, tired, battered and beaten. I do the unthinkable...I’m a firefigher and I am UNION!
Even though our days aren’t full of saving babies, we have to ensure fleet readiness, perform business inspections for fire code violations, keep physically fit and train on various topics to stay abreast of the latest danger to us.
My department is a small department of 31 (when fully staffed) in a small city of about 24,000. We have 8 firefighters on duty everyday, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We are family! We know each other’s families and watch our kids grow up. That’s one of the greatest things about our small department. Most everyone that comes to work here retires here. We’ve had a few firefighters leave only to come back realizing they made a mistake leaving.
I am a Conductor and Engineer for Union Pacific Railroad based in Spokane, Washington and a member of United Transportation Union Local 1505. I also
am the local’s legislative rep.
I have worked as a conductor for the railroad for eight years and as an engineer for two years.
My goal as a composer is to bring comedy and drama to life. I try to find some sort of unique way to give a voice and support the drama, whether it is through instrumentation or through the composition process in general. Each composition is fairly unique, however, there will always be some sort of thread that I will use. There’s always something of my voice in it
My most recent projects included composing for the third season of the ABC comedy The Middle, which is “quirky” music with a Tom Petty-ish edge, and the Travis Fine drama Any Day Now, starring Alan Cumming.
My dream of becoming a studio drummer led me from my home in Los Angeles, California, to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I earned a Bachelor of Music. At the school, there were so many things I was opened up to, including composition and film scoring. I no longer saw myself playing drums the rest of my life.
In choosing this vocation, I ended up following in a long line of union composers in my family, beginning with my grandfather Lionel Newman and great uncle Alfred Newman, who were both members of Professional Musicians Local 47, Los Angeles. The current generation of family composers includes cousins David, Thomas, and Randy Newman, all also members of Local 47.
I joined the American Federation of Musician’s Local 47 in 1997. The best part of being a member is getting health insurance, guaranteed scale wages, and special payments. I think that being a union member is being a part of an extremely high quality set of individuals and talented musicians. The union guys in town are just the best in the business, and this city, in particular, has the best in the business.
Upon completion of high school I decided to serve my country by joining the United States Navy. I was trained to be a Hospital Corpsman, and served 10 years before deciding to separate from the military. During this time I learned many valuable leadership and interpersonal skills that would be an asset, no matter what career path I chose.
Vice President USW Local 6787 and Contract Benefits Coordinator
I have several titles and lots to do. I don’t work on the shop floor as much as I once did. As contract coordinator, I oversee benefits administration for around 25,000 to 30,000 workers, retirees, spouses and dependents.
As president of the New Orleans Metal Trades Council, most days now I’m on steward time, going around the shipyard and talking to people who have problems on the job or on safety issues and since they started talking about shutting down the yard 18 months ago, people have plenty of problems.
America’s nuclear submarines are all unionmade. When these vessels need repair, the U.S. Navy wants that work done by skilled union workers.
Working on the electrical systems in a nuclear submarine is a bit different from wiring switches in a home.
I belong to IAM&AW Local Lodge 656 in Nitro, West Virginia. Next July will mark my 20th year at the plant. I serve on our volunteer emergency squad as a firefighter, an EMT and as a HAZMAT technician. I work on a 12-hour swing shift so I spend half my days and half my nights at work. I am also the editor of our union newspaper. My job has been very rewarding to me and my family over these years, but I still love being at home with my kids and 10 grandchildren.
The Bayer Crop Science Plant produces insecticides and other agricultural products.
Ed. Note: In 2008, the Bayer Crop Science Plant in Nitro was the scene of a major explosion that killed two workers. Since that time, Bayer has assigned new management to the facility. In March 2010, the company paid $143,000 in OSHA fi nes related to that incident.
By Tim Sugrue, 31-Year Professional Fire Fighter in Montgomery County, MD; District Rep., IAFF Local 1664
6 a.m. relieving the previous 24-hour shift. First order of business: check out the equipment: lights, sirens, tires, fuel. We’re in a semi rural suburban area, so a busy day for us might be 10 calls. In denser areas with shopping malls and office buildings a station could average 20 calls a day. We don’t just fight fires; car accidents, heart attacks, household accidents, hazardous materials spills and the occasional cat in at tree keep us on our toes. Everybody thinks we play checkers all day long, but that’s not how it is. In the morning, we’ll do physical training. If we’ve got a rookie on the shift, we might spend some time going over personal safety equipment, or train on a new vehicle. We’ve always got housework to do, routine maintenance on the firehouse. When we have downtime, we do safety education at elementary schools, or visit senior centers to talk about fire safety for the elderly. Our community service doesn’t end when our shift ends, especially around the holidays. Our local has a Thanksgiving food drive, we participate in Toys for Tots. Each station also donates toys for needy families. We have an annual golf tournament to raise money for the Washington Hospital Center’s burn unit and we help the IAFF at the George Meany Center with their annual camp for kids who are burn victims from around the country, give them a tour of D.C.; and, of course, we “fill the boot” for Jerry’s kids every year on Labor Day weekend. Not much time for checkers.
Following retirement in 2003, Joe A. Sandoval devoted his new found “free time” to recollecting the colorful characters he met and reconstructing incidents he witnessed during his career in a USW-represented steel mill in Pueblo, Colorado.
By David Westley Skillman, AFGE, Actors' Equity, SAG & AFTRA
I joined the military after high school, serving eight years. I also managed to complete a bachelor’s degree before I was honorably discharged. I went to work for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Los Angeles District Office in 1991 as a paralegal where I now serve as chief steward and as an offi cer for AFGE Local 3230. I’m also a trumpet player, dancer and actor.
In addition to my job and my performance pursuits, I volunteer in the community, working with a group that reaches out to incarcerated youth in the maximum security section of San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice Center to help inmates develop creative talent.
Among other things, we teach playwriting. It’s awesome to witness the joy, laughter, sadness and pain in the words of these young playwrites.
Mark Hackbart, Taylor Companies, Upholstery Cutter
Chief Steward, Steelworkers Local 48U
My name is Mark Hackbart. I work at The Taylor Companies and I am the Chief Union Steward, Steelworkers Local 48U, in Bedford Ohio. I have been working at Taylor for almost 33 years. Taylor opened in 1816 and is the oldest office furniture manufacturer in the United States. We manufacture high quality office desks and chairs for law firms, banks, corporations and union offices. I am an upholstery cutter. I cut the jobs out of whatever upholstery covers the customer selects. If it’s fabric, I match up all the parts for the chair or sofa. If it’s leather, I check the hide out for scars or defects and cut the parts out to get the best yield out of each hide. I then put the parts together and give them to the sewing operators so they can sew the pieces together for our upholsterers. I enjoy my job and my union.