As I looked it over, I noticed the usual deductions: state and federal taxes. But there was another substantial deduction that caught me off guard. Money was taken out for union dues.
I asked my union representative why I had to pay for union dues? His response: “I was working in a closed shop.” That meant that I had no choice; I had to be a member of the union in order to work for Ford.
At the time, I had no concept of just how important that union representation would be for me. After a time, I learned just how useful those union deductions were for me.
Working on an assembly line in those days wasn’t easy. We loaded heavy parts by hand onto huge machines. In fact, it could be dangerous, especially when a line foreman — eager to earn a production bonus — pushed employees to work faster than they were required. A quick call would be made to our union steward and he would set the foreman straight.
We had leverage in those days.
The union was also able to negotiate a number of benefits for employees, including wage increases and better health coverage.
Now a movement is under way to make Michigan a right-to-work state. State Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, plans to introduce legislation which would prohibit workers from being required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.
Indiana recently passed such legislation. In fact, quite a few southern states have right-to-work laws.
This would be a dramatic change for Michigan — a longtime bastion for unionism.
I understand the logic. Michigan is competing with other states for jobs. Many employers prefer not to have to deal with unions. They want to be able to pay lower wages.
Unions have a long history in Michigan and other Rust Belt states.
Walter Reuther, a key member of the United Auto Workers, was severely beaten by Ford security forces in 1937 when he led a strike against Ford Motor Co. Reuther, of course, would eventually become the powerful leader of the UAW — which represented autoworkers for Ford, General Motors and Chrysler — and won wage increases, paid vacations and pensions for them.
Union representation has been important for teachers as well. I’ll be the first to admit that we journalists have bashed teachers in the past for pushing for what we felt were excessive demands, but what we fail to remember is that teachers didn’t always have it so good.
Before the teachers union came along, they were poorly paid. Many teachers had to hold second jobs in order to support their families.
I even know of a case in which a teacher was fired years ago because he gave a failing grade to the son of a school board president. They now have protection against school officials seeking revenge.
It is easy for us to lose sight of how important unions have been for many of us.
Yes, times are changing. Many people, who would be satisfied with just having jobs, may wonder why there is a need for unions, as unionized workers have had to make numerous concessions in the past few years. But I would argue that unions are still relevant.
Workers need to be protected from greedy corporation executives who take huge bonuses for themselves, while many employees have their jobs eliminated or are forced to work years without pay raises.
Workers who are members of a union have a better chance of winning wage and benefit increases if they bargain as a group rather than individually. Unions can be beneficial for young workers who are more likely to be paid lower wages.
There is no question that unions will need to do more to convince workers — especially young ones — that they can still play an important role in their lives.
I’m sure we’re not going to see a sudden surge in union activities, but the right for representation should not be taken away from employees.