Open letter on unions’ value from a young NMG member

Barbara Rodriguez of Des Moines, Iowa, bureau

Barbara Rodriguez of Des Moines, Iowa, bureau

In early August, I attended a conference held by the Communications Workers of America on mobilizing young leadership within union locals.

I wasn’t looking forward to the conference because I was feeling apathetic about work. The long contract negotiations had me down. It would have been easier to tune out than to attend an event where I’d be told how critical union participation is.

I left three days later rejuvenated and ready to work.

At the conference, I was surrounded by newspaper employees (Wall Street Journal, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Chicago Sun-Times, to name a few) who shared their experiences of contract negotiations. I spoke with union members of other organizations within CWA, too. They also told me their stories of stalled talks.

The consensus? The road is long and hard. You get what you put in.

Our union leadership is under incredible stress. I didn’t realize how much stress until I attended this conference and met others fighting for their respective contracts. They’re getting pulled in several directions; from the company, who is yelling at them to take their terrible proposals; and from union members, who are asking why they haven’t come up with a deal.

Keep in mind that AP took away our pension plan and wants to decimate our health insurance program. AP is shifting resources to its overseas operations and hiring more managers while we are squeezed harder to do more for less. If we want a fair contract, it is completely up to us because we are the union.

Unless AP has a fire to put out, it’s content dragging this fight out for the foreseeable future. In that scenario, it’s unlikely we’ll get the contract we deserve. I implore you to speak up in the weeks ahead and openly suggest ideas for getting this company’s attention. AP has taught us that the only respect it will give is that which is demanded from it.

I’ll start with one suggestion. If you are not a member of the union, the time to join is right now. Nothing would make our company turn its head quicker than to see a dramatic increase in union membership. It is concrete leverage our negotiators can use to level the playing field.

The annual cost of membership is minuscule compared to the loss of rights and income under AP’s proposals. Plus, don’t you want to vote on a tentative agreement when it comes down?

No amount of company loyalty will save you as AP tries to destroy the notion of fair pay and benefits. If there’s anything the conference taught me, it’s that there is power in numbers. And we get what we put in.

In unity,

Barbara Rodriguez, chair, NMG Human Rights Committee

Des Moines, Iowa