We Can Do It!

In my real life, I’m a senior at UCLA, studying science. But my part time gig is as the web editor of Labor 411. You wouldn’t think it, but sometimes the two really can collide. For instance, last week I was studying for a math midterm with my friend Samantha. After 3 hours of hitting the books, we were dizzy from equations and decided to take a break and went for a bite to eat.

Over lunch, we started talking about our families. Turns out her dad was a UAW union representative. I looked at her in disbelief. What a coincidence. Two science majors at UCLA and we have labor parents in common.  She gave me a very confused look and asked, “Did I say something wrong?” I started laughing and said, “you’re not going to believe this, but what a small world! My mom has been a union activist for over 20 years now and this past summer I was the co-project manager of the directory, LA Labor 411.”

Now her face expressed her disbelief. “Get out of here!” she responded, “You think that’s a small world? Our world just got smaller! When I was looking for a car this past summer, we took the LA Labor 411 directory to every car dealership we went too. I ended up getting a Ford Focus and I love it!”

A huge smile spread across on my face – I actually knew someone my age that knew about the union directory, used it and found it useful!

The 411 team and I worked really hard on LA Labor 411 this past summer. Although my boss told us a countless times how this book was on the desk of politicians and union presidents, I never really felt the connection. But here, today, at that moment, knowing that my college friend, a younger person, MY demographic, actually used this book that I worked on gave me a lot of pride in being part of the union movement.

The union movement is losing more and more members, year after year, and I think we, the younger demographic, are the key to turning that around. It’s not that the problem of people being exploited at work has gone away – work sites are still dangerous, people still work too hard, pay isn’t enough to keep up with inflation, sexual harassment still happens at work, and on and on. But the Tea Partiers are winning the public relations war and people feel like they don’t need unions anymore.

The union movement needs to find more young adults like us -- people raised with awareness about a world where people are treated poorly in the workplace and where corporations believe that a full time employee can – and should -- live on of $8 an hour. People that would go out of their way to buy an item that is union made because they know that behind that item, those workers had a safe working environment and a fair salary. The union movement has so many positive programs and such a support system that is often overlooked or goes unnoticed amid all its bad publicity.

Being a senior and about to graduate and go into the real world, I’m scared to leave college in such a bad economy. Of my friends who graduated last year from UCLA, one of the top 25 universities in the country, 2 are working as waiters, 1 is working in retail, 1 is interning (un-paid), and the rest are looking for jobs.

But maybe this bad economy will turn out to be the best thing for unions right now. Young people are finally waking up to the huge inequalities in the world and in the workplace and are finding out how hard it is to find a good job with decent wages and benefits.

Unions can make the winning difference for us young people by showing  how by working together in politics and in our consumer buying habits we can help other middle class people keep their jobs – right here in America. And for those who lose them, unions offer a safety net that will them find a new job or new skills. And when nothing else seems certain, knowing unions have a safety net and a support system to fall back on is the only certain thing we can all count on.

Rachelle Jacoby, Project Manager LA Labor 411

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