Las Vegas Sun

July 16, 2018

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Unions offer tools to battle income inequality

Editor's note: As he does every August, Brian Greenspun is taking some time off and is turning over his Where I Stand column to others. Today’s guest columnist is D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, the North American union that represents over 270,000 workers and over a million of their family members in the hospitality, culinary, food service, and transportation sectors.

I believe in America, in equality and in the women and men who work hard and play by the rules to provide a better life for themselves and their family.

So with summer coming to a close and Labor Day just around the corner, it seems the right time to take a look at the state of organized labor and the difference having a union can make in the life of ordinary Nevadans and Americans. When workers organize, they take their fate into their collective hands and seize the best opportunity of achieving the American dream of prosperity and justice.

Since its high-water mark in the 1950s, membership in unions has gradually declined as income inequity grew and laws were passed limiting the freedom of Americans to organize for a voice at work. Today, with the cards stacked against them, far fewer workers are organized, and economic injustice runs deep through our nation — a feeling so many have of being left behind or participating meaninglessly in a system rigged against them. The reality is, the catastrophic increase in economic inequity in this country is a direct result of the attack on the rights of workers to have a say in their wages, hours and working conditions. By organizing a worker union at their place of employment, workers begin to directly affect and combat income inequality.

I’m proud that my union, UNITE HERE, is growing, not dying: In fact, UNITE HERE is the single fastest-growing private sector union in the AFL-CIO. And as we grow, we are changing lives and closing the income inequality gap.

Only eight months into 2017, we’ve already set a record for the largest expansion of our membership in our union’s history. It defies conventional wisdom that the worker movement is no longer needed or can’t win: We’re organizing workers in every section of the hospitality world, from right here in Nevada to the Deep South in states like Mississippi, to Silicon Valley including winning the union at Facebook this summer. At Facebook, one of the most profitable businesses in the world, cafeteria workers were so poorly paid that many were homeless and sleeping in their cars before they decided to unionize. Now, those workers are our members and they have a seat at the table to decide their pay and benefits. We’re winning unions in airports, hotels and casinos across America, and we’re raising the standards and increasing wages for all workers in cities in which we’re organizing.

Every time workers vote to form a union, they are raising the standards of pay and working conditions for all workers in that city. Organizing together means taking the power back from corporations and leveling the playing field. That’s why with a national housekeeper median pay of barely over $9 an hour, UNITE HERE housekeepers across the country make up to $22 an hour plus benefits in many cities.

Why are we being so successful, swimming against the tide of attacks on worker rights? I believe it is because we have struck a chord that average Americans across all industries deeply feel: that getting a bigger slice of the pie is achieved by wages and benefits, and it’s also in quality of life, affordable health care and strong political representation.

Workers feel the difference our union is making in their lives.

UNITE HERE both in Nevada and across the country is putting power back in the hands of the workers by addressing all points of inequity in a revolutionarily wholesale way: opening state-of-the-art, full service health centers from Las Vegas to New York City with night and weekend hours, where you can see a dentist, get a prescription filled and get new glasses all in a single stop. In Chicago and Seattle, we are winning new regulations protecting our predominantly female housekeepers from sexual assaults at work. In Orlando, we’re helping eligible workers become full American citizens. Here in Las Vegas, UNITE HERE affiliate Culinary 226 mobilized thousands of hotel and casino workers to talk to their neighbors about the 2016 elections — winning Democratic control of the state legislature and sending the first Latina to the U.S Senate, and later the first-in-the-nation insulin pricing bill signed this year. To achieve true equality, our union is engaging with our members and their communities in all areas of life to fix and remove the hurdles that truly hold us back.

A union must deliver for its members, because allowed the choice, employers put profits for shareholders before fairness for workers. In wages, in health care, in human dignity on the job, in political power, UNITE HERE delivers. It takes the full toolkit available in our great nation to equip our members to not just survive, but thrive. No full-time American worker should live in poverty or be unable to afford his or her basic survival, and the best opportunity to achieve worker justice is through taking the future into your collective hands. That is the American way. That is what we are fighting for. I believe this Labor Day, we should all celebrate the hard work of all working people — immigrant or native born — we all seek to live the American Dream.

As our union has demonstrated, Labor Day is every day and we aim to continue to grow, prosper and continue to make America the land of opportunity and economic advancement.