Being a union member means you’re united and active with many other workers who do similar work or who work for the same employer. It means you work together to win improvements to your wages, your work, and the students and families you serve. It’s important to remember that your union membership is not transactional. It’s not like a gym or Costco membership. In other words, union dues aren’t what you pay in exchange for a product or service.
But like a church or business, it still takes money to run and sustain a union. Union dues pay for the work that is done to build our power at the bargaining table and in the workplace, and for political advocacy – such as legislative efforts to end the unjust summer unemployment crisis faced by classified school employees. This work takes a team of dedicated professionals, including organizers, member representatives, communicators and attorneys who guide, train, educate, and inform members in negotiations, grievances, arbitration, and workplace leadership.
What does it mean to be a member? Membership is an act and statement of solidarity with your co-workers. It’s saying: “My co-workers and I are one unit and have each other’s backs.”
Membership has one functional purpose: collective power. What is collective power? Think about it this way …
Here you have a stick by itself and you have many sticks bundled together. Which one is stronger, almost unbreakable? Which is weaker?
In a workplace or industry, when everyone is part of a union, the workers possess a power that directly counteracts the power of management. And our employers—by law—must negotiate with our union in collective bargaining. How good the contract ends up being is entirely dependent on the membership numbers and the level of member participation in a contract campaign.
Going back to the bundle of sticks – if more and more sticks separate from the bundle, it wouldn’t be as strong anymore, right? Now, imagine what it means for our contracts (and our livelihoods) when members are too few, when workers choose the lone and selfish path of disunity? First: you’d have a union with fewer resources to effectively organize workers and build power; second: the employer, seeing how small the membership is, wouldn’t feel pressured to give in on our proposals – and the bargaining team wouldn’t have enough leverage to counter theirs. In order for us to get what we want in a contract or when addressing a work site issue, the employer must see that we have strength in numbers and we’re ready to take action.
Collective power through sticking together is a tangible thing—it’s how we’ve lifted ourselves and our families up, defended what we have, and will keep bargaining for more.