I have been an associate at Macy’s in Herald Square for going on eight years now. I started out in the Bedding Department on the 6th floor and was later promoted to the Home and Electric Department on the 8th floor. Macy’s Herald Square is the flagship of the Macy’s department store chain; it is located in Herald Square in Manhattan, NY. The store covers an entire city block, with more than two million square feet of retail space, it’s one of the largest stores in the world. My union, RWDSU Local 1-S represents nearly 4,000 active employees in Herald Square and at the Queens, Parkchester and White Plains Stores.
I have been a Shop Steward for about four years, helping the employees on my floor when they have issues with everything from scheduling to handling conflicts on the floor. I’ve worked non-union before. What I have found in a unionized store is that we have a voice on the job. In a busy department store like Macy’s, there are a lot of misunderstandings and disagreements. But, because of the union, workers know they are protected against unreasonable customer complaints. I’ve helped fellow members understand that they don’t have to tolerate abusive treatment to keep their jobs, because the union has their back. One of the main issues I see as a steward is scheduling. We have provisions in our contract with Macy’s that requires fair and set scheduling, but we see management violate that a lot. When that happens, we file a grievance on behalf of the employee. RWDSU Local 1-S has negotiated a fair contract, it is up to me and the other shop stewards to help enforce it. Our contract has required Macy’s to provide paid sick leave since before it was mandatory in New York State. I’ve seen Macy’s management try to avoid allowing employees to take their leave. And, I’ve been able to help those employees file grievances so they can receive the time off they are entitled to.
Being a union shop steward, for me, is like standing up to the classroom bully. I get to let them know that we won’t tolerate that kind of behavior. I like my job, and I like being able to help customers who come in to the store, but it makes me feel great to be able to help my coworkers.■
Skylar Roush, Chula Vista, CA Charter School Teacher, CTA Sweetwater Union High School District
As a Chula Vista, Calif., charter high school teacher, I wake up every morning and kiss my wife goodbye for the day. She is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient and is in the process of getting her teaching credentials. Even though we are married, we don’t know if she’ll be able to stay in the only country she’s ever known.
I drive to the school, two miles from the border with Mexico, many of my students wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. to wait in the border line to come to school in the USA. I walk into my classroom where students are always already there waiting, eating their school breakfast. These are the ones for whom the border crossing was quicker than usual that day, so they arrive at the school well before the day is set to begin.
We are a public charter that takes in the high school students from across the vast Sweetwater Union school district that are not on track to graduate. Most of our students are English Language Learners (ELL) who have grown up on both sides of the border. They are American citizens, children of families too poor to afford to live in California’s skyrocketing housing market, or whose families don’t have the documentation necessary to live and work in the U.S.
We also take in many homeless students, and students who are transitioning out of juvenile detention supervision. It is hard work serving as teacher, mentor, coach, therapist, and college counselor all in one day. But, it is important, necessary work that sustains me and gives me purpose.
For this work however, I am paid $55,000 per year, though I would make $68,000 if I taught at any of the traditional public schools in our same district.
Our students are Sweetwater Union High School District students, but we are not paid like Sweetwater Union High School District teachers.
In October of 2015, my colleagues unionized our charter school with the California Teachers’ Association (CTA), and have been working with organizers from the union to sign our first contract ever since. We have faced numerous delay tactics. We no longer have a General Ed English teacher or an English Language Development (ELD) teacher. We have gone semesters with no science or math teachers, and years with no Spanish teacher. All in a school that is 95 percent ELL and nearly 100 percent of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
We are getting to the point where walking out is becoming a real point of discussion. After two and a half years of delays, my colleagues and I wonder if that is the only way.
Charter schools should exist to provide additional paths to success for students, not to punish the teachers who sign up to serve the most vulnerable. We are inspired by our union brothers and sisters walking out of their classrooms all across the country, and we are proud of the difficult fights they have made winnable. Charter schools MUST be unionized, or our teachers will be underpaid and under-supported, and our students, those with the most need of stable and quality educators, will be the ones that continue to suffer.
Con union se vive mejor!
I am a second-year apprentice with the Sheet Metal Workers Local 24 in Dayton, OH. Before becoming an apprentice, I served in the 101st Airborne unit in the U.S. Army. I was honorably discharged after being injured during a training exercise.
After leaving the Army, I decided to take advantage of my GI Bill by enrolling in the Hobart Institute of Welding in Troy, OH. After completing my certifications, I went to work for a non-union company for about two years. During this time, I found that a lot of the senior employees were unwilling to teach the new workers on the job. There seemed to be a lot of fear that if they did, they might lose their job to a younger worker.
After a couple of years on the job, a friend of the family told me about the union. I was intrigued and looked in to how to join. In 2015, I applied to the Local 24 Joint Apprenticeship Training Center, and I believe that it was the best decision I ever made.
The atmosphere on the job, and in the classroom, is all about building you up and teaching you. The union has given me a new family in my coworkers and those I train with. It has helped build my self-esteem, and given me more financial and career stability. I love my job at Reliable Electrical Mechanical Services, I get to learn something new almost daily. I don’t think I would be doing as well if I had stayed in the private industry.
As a veteran, moving into the union trades is a great option. So many people with military backgrounds can find the regimen and comradery they crave in the brotherhood of the union building trades.
Amy Rozny, UFCW Local 881
I am a UFCW Local 881 member and I have been a pharmacy technician for 8 months at Jewel Osco #3296 in Chicago, IL. I started in high school. I applied and did a training course through Jewel Osco to become certified to become a pharmacy tech.
I love my job. I get to work with people every day and you always learn something new.
My advice to anyone who wants to become a pharmacy tech is to ask a lot of questions. No question is a dumb question. Before here, I worked at a pet store, because I’m an animal lover, and a garden center, because I love plants. When I started, I didn’t know anything about pharmacy. You learn through asking questions.
When I started in the hotel industry I was in my twenties and I worked for nonunion hotels. My first job wasn’t the best, I worked there two or three years and eventually they let me go saying it was because of cutbacks. I had never been fired before, I was in shock.
A few months later, in ’97, I was hired at my current hotel which was also nonunion then. Things started off good there but went downhill. I noticed that when people were getting fired they weren’t being replaced and the hotel starting downsizing and cutting departments. I was in convention services back then and we were overworked. The managers kept telling us they would hire new people but never did. When I started in ’97 there were around 17 employees in convention services, and when we decided to fight for a union in 2010 that was down to
about 5. Many of us in convention and housekeeping were forced to do overtime because it was too much work and you had to have the work finished even if it was past your time. The hotel even brought in temporary agencies for housekeeping so workers were doing the same work for less pay.
When my co-worker first approached me about joining the union, I knew that most decent jobs had a union, so I decided to join the committee. He was surprised that I didn’t hesitate, but I’d seen good union jobs – my dad was a postal worker – so I wanted that. The hotel jobs here in Baltimore were supposed to be the new “good jobs” after manufacturing left, but I saw that they had a ways-to-go. We fought for the union and won and now my coworkers and I feel respected on the job. I can do my work better without feeling like a manager is going to come and harass me. I don’t have to keep looking over my shoulder because I can’t be fired arbitrarily like I was when I first started at a non-union place in my twenties. I have a fighting chance, and a real say-so in my job conditions. The hotel has hired more people
because of the union so my coworkers aren’t overworked. We also get regular raises and don’t have to worry about favoritism in who gets what raise this year. I have a family and the most important thing for me is that I have a say in my scheduling. Thanks to the union I can plan my work around the rest of my life and be there for my family.
For anyone who is traveling and attending conferences, come stay at a union hotel. It makes a real difference in my life and the lives of thousands of other workers. Let’s support good jobs in hospitality.
Manny Vargas, TWU Local 252, school bus driver in Suffolk County, NY
After I completed my duties in the Armed Forces, U.S. Navy, I immediately joined the nation’s workforce. I believe that among the most important responsibility in our lives is work, for ourselves and for society at large.
Over the years I have performed public safety duties. In my jobs at Pan America Airlines and American Airlines, I worked as an aircraft maintenance technician, with responsibility for passenger and airline employee safety.
As a current member of TWU Local 252, I am responsible for the safety of school children on the school bus that I drive. My work requires that I know and observe many state and federal laws and regulations. I am employed by Suffolk Transportation System and enjoy many benefits as a result of my union membership. My work is deeply satisfying as it rejuvenates me daily to deal with children from diverse backgrounds.