In 2016 Unions Are Needed More Than Ever


By Sean Raycraft

For many years of my life, Labor Day was just a three-day weekend signifying the end of summer. What was a Labor Union? I really had no idea, and they were not particularly relevant to my life. The only time I ever heard about unions was on ESPN when the sportscasters were talking about a strike, whatever that was. The football players wanted a bigger share of the football related income from the NFL. For the most part, I think that many people my age and younger do not really know labor history, what unions are or what they do for working people, and that is really sad.

Over the last few days, I have asked many of my friends why American workers need unions and the Labor movement in 2016 more than previous generations. People from all walks of life responded with their ideas on Union, the Labor movement and what future workers can expect in their work life. Many of my friends work in the Labor movement, and thus have a sophisticated understanding of the issues. Some of my friends have no idea. Others are radical trade unionists, who use terminology I can barely understand when describing the labor movement.

For my part, the Labor movement and my union have become a huge part of my life. When I was younger, I assumed that poor people were poor because they were lazy. I thought that anyone who actually had a job would be just fine, have a car, a decent place to live and could afford to send their kids to college. It was not until I got a union job that I truly understood what the union difference was. After a few years, I earned decent wages, good benefits, paid vacations, sick pay, grievance procedures, a weekly 24 hour minimum guarantee, a defined benefit pension and time and a third on Sundays. At the time, my partner worked at Target in Davis.

Many days, she would come home in tears for any number of reasons. Her boss cut 2 hours off her shift today, and she needed that money. She was sexually harassed by customers or employees and did not feel like she could talk to her bosses about it out of fear of retaliation against her. People who complained to management often had their hours cut, schedules changed or transferred to undesirable jobs. Meanwhile, I had good representation and a strong labor contract negotiated by my union. Today as a journeyman clerk, I make a base hourly wage of 21.43 per hour, before any premiums. Her job at Target and my job at Safeway share mostly the same kinds of duties, only she was paid slightly over minimum wage, with horrible working conditions, unaffordable health care, and no weekly guarantee. That, is the union difference. Sadly, these good, blue collar jobs like mine are becoming rare.

Today, a significant percentage of people in my generation do not have jobs like mine. Instead, they work in the sharing economy. They drive for Uber and Lyft, or more than likely, they drive for both at the same time. They rent out rooms in the place they stay with Airbnb just to help make ends meet. Or they simply have to work two jobs. One guy I work with stocks shelves at night, and then goes door to door selling an organic fresh vegetable delivery service. Not too long ago in our history, hecklers would shout at protestors “get a job!” Unfortunately, advocates and activists still often get heckled with this taunt while protesting, but now I say, “Did you mean get ANOTHER JOB?! Because I already have two!”

I want to address the declining standard of living for working people in America. Too often people forget what Labor Unions have fought for and won for working people in America. Unions have been the political muscle behind every major piece of legislation in the last 100 years. The eight-hour work day, overtime protections (coming soon to farm workers in California!), Social Security, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, the federal minimum wage, safety in the work place, end of child labor laws, public education, the weekend, equal pay for equal work laws, pensions and civil rights laws to name a few. These are all public programs most Americans unfortunately take for granted. Unions and social movements are the backbone of progress for workers in this country, and too often people forget those who were murdered by the enemies of progress for working people.

In California, over the last few years there have been major legislative victories for the Labor movement. California now requires three mandatory sick days for nearly all workers. Now the people who touch your food can take a day off when they or their child are ill. This year in May, California became the first state to adopt a $15 minimum wage, phased in over several years. California also adopted a law extending paid maternity leave to six weeks.

I asked a good friend of mine, a former Fight for 15 organizer who has since become the Executive Director of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, about this issue. Here is what he had to say:

“Why do workers need unions in 2016?  Workers get a smaller share of the wealth today than when organized Labor was at its peak in the mid 20th century.  The exploitative nature of capitalism has fostered an environment that exploits workers and preys on their financial vulnerability.  More people working 2-3 jobs,  more college educated workers in minimum wage jobs,  and less retirement security than the previous generations makes unions more relevant today than in at least 2 generations,” said Fabrizio Sasso.

This hit me really hard. I thought about a co-worker of mine, who is 69, works two jobs and cannot afford to retire. She is fearful she will have to work until the day she dies. I thought about how many of my co-workers who are UCD students, who are trying to work their way through school, and yet they are going to be graduating with $30,000 in debt or more. I think about how they can look forward to jobs that will not pay them as well as the union job they have right now, and I think, there has to be a better way.

Assemblymember and political force of nature Lorena Gonzalez had this to say when asked: “All the good legislation in the world can’t protect you like a good union contract.”

I could go on, but in the interest of brevity, we will move on to the movement part of the labor movement. As many of you know, I have been involved with the Fight for 15 movement for years now. In May, we won the $15 minimum wage in California on Cesar Chavez Day. It is a victory half won for the movement. Low wage workers need 15 and a union. Without the union, wages will be stolen, workers will be intimidated, undocumented workers will be threatened and harassed or terminated just for fighting for their rights. I am excited for the next phase of the Fight for 15, as it will be uniting economic and racial justice movements into one. Unfortunately, I could not get permission to publish the new platform ratified by the Fight for 15 members before the self-imposed publishing deadline.

With that said, come join low wage workers of all kinds on September 12 at 12 pm- 2pm at the State Capitol and you can learn all about it. You will be a part of a historic 35 State day of action which will address racial and economic inequalities in America today.

Labor Day is not merely a marker, denoting the end of summer. It is a day to honor all the labor movement has done for this country, and its workforce, and to recognize that there are political forces which seek to destroy this progress. So, while you are enjoying the extra day off this week, try and remember the people who were murdered so that we could have 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, and 8 hours for what we will. The people who fought for public education, and the end of child labor. Remember those who fought for a better world for their children, and ask yourself if you’re willing to do the same. Dr. King famously said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Happy Labor Day everyone.

Sean Raycraft is a lifelong Davis resident and proud shop steward with UFCW 8

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts


  1. Delia .

    While working for the state w/ excellent benefits it never ceased to amaze me that certain coworkers whined about paying their union dues. One co- worker , an ex sheriff, stayed 5 yrs w/ that dept. to get the added ccpoa benefits. Transferred to another state agency where he worked flex hours (7:30 – 4:00). His wife took advantage of paid maternity leave for both children. They both recd OT for working Saturdays. Time and a half or double time on holidays. Retired with full medical insurance at approx. 56 years old. And yet they whined.

    I thank God for SEIU, especially for the time I was allowed for maternity leave with my children.

    My dad worked in a foundry pouring molten iron all day, during the Depression. He lost a toe before workers comp laws. He raised me to never ever ever cross a picket line!

    Grateful for labor unions today.

    Praying for a living wage for every person, world wide.

  2. quielo

    “Unfortunately, advocates and activists still often get heckled with this taunt while protesting” This is only acceptable on the DV if they are members of the police union and are being heckled then they are supposed to suck it up.

      1. quielo

        I’m not sure that human nature is exclusively the property of the left. I was talking to a union teacher who criticized the the NFL Players Union for defending a player that had been charged with domestic violence. She felt the player should have been terminated immediately. I asked her if she would support immediate termination of teachers if they were charged with a crime.

        Apparently union teachers have rights and union players do not.

        1. Dave Hart

          There are many union members who don’t like paying dues and they usually identify as Republicans.  I was a leader in such a union and the data showed about the same number of registered Republicans in our union as in the general population.  Most of union members are decline to state but vote Democrat because there is no real alternative.  The people identifying as Republicans who were active union supporters were actually pretty decent and when asked why they are Republicans cited issues like abortion or gun control.  But they really did get the idea of being in an organization that was stronger than going it alone.  Those were the activist Republican members.

  3. Frankly

    Everywhere labor unions exist we find unsustainable budgets, costs that escalate much greater than the rate of inflation and general service quality at the bottom of the standards for comparable business.

    The only genuine benefit provided by unions in this day and age is their contribution to investment in workforce automation.

    1. Justice4All

      Everywhere overpaid corporate CEO’s exist, we find bloated salaries, golden parachutes for incompetence, exorbitant profit margins, and a ever decreasing quality of life for human workers. The only genuine benefit provided by corporate greed is spurring needed social change.

      1. Frankly

        Inaccurate hyperbole.  I can name thousands of excellent companies with highly compensated senior executives and employees reporting high levels of job satisfaction.

        However, I cannot name one organization with unionized labor that would qualify for anything close to the “excellence’ stamp.  In fact, most companies with unionized labor have miserable employees.  And then they demand more pay and benefits to make up for their being miserable in an endless demand of “doing less with more” that dooms the organization to eventual failure.

        1. Eric Gelber

          Frankly: “I can name thousands of excellent companies with highly compensated senior executives and employees reporting high levels of job satisfaction. … I cannot name one organization with unionized labor that would qualify for anything close to the ‘excellence’ stamp.”

          NBA. There. Now you can name one.

        2. Delia .

          Good a.m. Frankly,

          How’re you today? Re: J4A’s comment: I think he said where it exists, you’ll find examples of that. Not everywhere it exists, it is all you’ll find.

      2. Barack Palin

        Everywhere overpaid corporate CEO’s exist, we find bloated salaries, golden parachutes for incompetence, exorbitant profit margins, and a ever decreasing quality of life for human workers. The only genuine benefit provided by corporate greed is spurring needed social change.

        Everywhere?  That’s a blanket statement.  Sounds like it came right out of the Occupy 99%’ers playbook.  My son works for high-tech gaming company based in Silicon Valley with a satellite business in Sacramento.  He and all of his fellow workers make buck with great company benefits.  I’m sure their CEO makes a huge salary.  I’m also sure the company makes a nice profit too.  That’s called success.  Sean, you need to expand out of your little social network and see the world because you have some learning to do.

    1. Justice4All

      Unions did not cause Detroit to go bankrupt. NAFTA and globalization did. If you remember your history correctly, the unions fought those things, and still do. Just look at the TPP fight that is happening right now.

      If your logic was sound, “strong unions caused Detroit to de industrialize and thus create a ton of misery for the residents” would also apply to say Mississippi. Unions were busted in Mississippi, and Mississippi is the State with the highest poverty per capita, so busting unions increases poverty would also work. Correlation is not causation.

      1. South of Davis

        Sean wrote:

        > Unions did not cause Detroit to go bankrupt. NAFTA and globalization did.

        There are plenty of Non Union auto plants in the US (like Mercedes and BMW) that are doing fine.

        I don’t want to bash unions in general but a typical mob boss would blush if he knew of the union corruption in Detriot (and Chicago).

      2. Sam

        NAFTA? If that is the case then how is the auto industry thriving in the South now? I’ll tell you GM couldn’t build cars paying a bloated union labor rate, but every other car company can paying market labor rates.

        1. Adam Smith

          The union doesn’t have a good answer Sam.  It is well chronicled that poor quality automobiles and high per unit costs (mostly direct labor and pension costs) were the downfall of the US auto industry.    It is an inconvenient truth for the pro union group.

        2. Justice4All

          Actually yes it does. The reduction in manufactured goods tariffs as part of NAFTA effectively allowed US manufacturers to build their products in Mexico much cheaper.

        3. Sam

          Last time I checked Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee are not located in Mexico, so again NAFTA had nothing to do with the downfall of auto production in Michigan. It was the outrageous labor costs.

      3. hpierce

        Meant as honest questions, but will fully understand why you might not reply…

        How much compensation does a shop steward get from the union (paid by union dues)?  %-age of actual wages from the employer? How much are union dues, compared to rank and file compensation?

        1. Dave Hart

          In the union I belonged to, there was no salary or wage differential for being a shop steward.  Our officers were paid their same hourly wage as when they were working.  I recognize this is not a universal situation.  But just like our City Council, State Legislature and Congress, we get the leadership and policies we deserve by participating and being active or just going along with the flow.

        2. hpierce

          Dave… to be clear… shop stewards were not paid by the employer…  they got salary, stipends (and some times bribes) from the unions… this was in the 50’s-70’s that I am aware of… IAM, Teamsters, AFL-CIO… maybe that has changed… that’s why I asked the honest question…

        3. Justice4All

          It really depends on the structure of the union and workplace. For instance, in my workplace, almost anyone can be a steward. In my union, stewards do not get any kind of compensation or pay, other than a gift basket around the holidays as a thank you. In other unions, stewards are sometimes elected by the shop and receive a small stipend, sometimes elected stewards do not. The Teamsters employ many of these structures, depending on the industry. Sometimes the title “steward” is actually a fully paid lost time position, with other volunteers or “zone contacts” handling the day to day on the shop floor. In short, its complicated, but most stewards are not paid much if at all.

  4. Sam

    What union do Google employees join? That union gives them free gourmet meals, free transportation to work and generous paid newborn bonding time. Good thing they don’t have “overpaid an CEO” there.

        1. Sam

          “You would just take less money and worse benefits because why exactly?”

          Again you miss my point completely, I am not talking about companies that Google contracts with, I am talking about being a Google employee. Google does not have a union yet the wages and benefits they offer are superior to any union job that I know of. Google workers would not be better off with a union. So yes I would take the higher wages and better benefits that Google offers.


  5. Dave Hart

    The overriding problem in our economy is that there are not enough people with enough income left over from rent, food and utilities to be good customers for all you people out there who hate unions and run your own small firms.  That is what unionization does and yes, it comes at the expense of employers in the monthly wage cycle.  But if you can remember when unions were at their highest density of jobs in the mid 1960s, the economy was growing even when taxes on the most wealthy were far higher than now.  It’s because people had money to spend.  People with money to spend buy stuff from people who run businesses.  It ain’t rocket science and greater union density would be good for everyone.

      1. South of Davis

        Sam wrote:

        > Now all we need to do is bomb Japan, Europe, Russia

        > and then bring back unions to be like the 60’s.

        That will only solve half the problem, we will also have to make the majority of the residents of China, Vietnam and Mexico close their factories and go back to living as peasant farmers…

        1. Sam

          You are right. We would have to put South Korea on the bombing list too. But after we level all of the infrastructure in those countries then we can relive the glory of the 1960’s.

    1. Frankly

      Unions are a dead and dying idea that had a place and a purpose early in our industrial revolution.

      Today they invalidate all the best-practices in organizational excellence.  Few of the modern principles of progressive management can be applied to unionized labor.

      There are a few exceptions that stand out (for example: Southwest Airlines, UPS, Caterpillar, Walt Disney, Verizon, Harley-Davidson, Ford Motor Company, and Boeing.)  But these companies are not 100% unionized, and they are all unique.  In general unions impede a company’s ability to compete and thrive.

      Unions tend to establish an immediate adversarial relationship with management, actually fomenting an environment of limited trust as this serves the union in its negotiation tactics.   But these tactics are often fatal for a business.  For example, a firm might be in deep financial trouble, yet its unions may be unwilling to bend or compromise in order to help the company survive.

      Union labor contracts can be inflexible and impede management from creatively responding to changes in the marketplace. Companies with unionized labor tend to be bureaucratic and filled with rules.

      When unions succeed in negotiating for higher wages for workers, it can damage the competitive advantage of a company as it is forced to charge higher prices.

      Unions tend to lead to a decline in the value of merit: workers can’t advance much or at all on their merits, but rather they are constrained by the limits defined by union contracts (mostly seniority).

      Unions make it difficult to impossible to weed out ineffective employees.

      Without the ability to advance on merit and with a supply of ineffective coworkers making the same money for lower performance, union employees lose the incentive to work hard for their employer.  They start taking a “not in my job description” attitude about their work.

      Employees are attracted to well-managed companies with our without unionization.  For example, Nugget Markets has some of the highest employee job satisfaction of all regional and large grocery chains.  It has been high on the list of the annual Fortune Magazine 100 best companies to work for. Nugget Market is union free.

      Unionized employees tend to work for crappy business and poorly management organizations.  In general I think that unionized employees have a symbiotic relationship with poorly managed employers.  They tend to reinforce the existence of each other until the business fails.

      We should immediately outlaw public sector unions.  The problem will take care of itself in the private sector as unionized companies eventually fail.

    2. quielo


      Are you aware that does not make any sense at all?


      Rather than comparing the present state of the US to some different point in history we have numerous countries in the current day with differing levels of union membership. leading the way would be China with essentially 100% union membership though their unions are different.


      Several EU countries, such as France, have much higher rates of membership and would be a more relevant comparison.



Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for