As I end my final term as President of the Teacher’s Council for Local 434, I have been reflecting on unionism and what it means to be part of a union. During my 20 years in 434 leadership, I have seen myself become more and more active in the larger labor movement, and I am currently serving as the President of the Southwest Area Council and the Secretary Treasurer of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. I see now that my work is not over, it has only just begun in many ways.
So what does it mean to be a part of the union? It means we have the strength of many behind us. It means we have job security and a safe place to work. It means we have some say in determining our evaluations, our mentoring program, our sick leave, our rights as professionals. It means we have a contract to protect us. It also means we are part of something larger than ourselves. We are all proud members of the Belleville Federation of Teachers, but we are also members of the 6,000 strong Southwest Area Council, a labor council dedicated to preserving and uplifting the voices of our region. We are members of the 100,000 strong Illinois Federation of Teachers, and we are also part of the over 1.2 million strong American Federation of Teachers. There is strength in numbers.
More importantly, we are part of a growing labor movement. This movement is nationwide, from Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and Amazon workers, to undergraduate students throughout the nation. The National Labor Relations Board saw a 53% increase in union representations filed from last year. A Gallup poll published last August found that 71% of Americans approve of labor unions (that number increases to 77% for young adults aged 18-34). This is the highest approval rating since 1965. Americans are noticing that when we fight, we win. In fact, here in Illinois there were three higher institutions on strike at the same time in April, and all three secured solid contracts. There is even a former middle school social studies teacher, also a proud member of the IFT, who was recently sworn in as mayor of Chicago. Change is upon us!
None of this surprises me. It sometimes takes a catastrophic event to foment real change. It was the Black Death in the 14th century where an estimated 30-50% of the population died that brought an end to feudalism. Workers were scarce, and they were able to successfully demand wages for their work. We recently lived through a global pandemic. Of course significant change has come out of it. Unions have not only survived the pandemic; we have thrived as a result of it. We see now that union representation at all levels has strong advantages. We can bargain for protections and safety. We can bargain for wages and working conditions. We can be a part of something larger and more powerful than what we could accomplish on our own.
“Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
For the Union makes us strong.”
So what does this mean for you? This means we all should take pride, and more importantly stewardship of this union. Local 434 is YOUR UNION. We have been active and engaged for 87 years, and now it's your time to step up, get involved, and contribute to the movement.
In the words of Solidarity Forever written in 1915 by Ralph Chaplin:
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of atoms, magnified a thousand fold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the Union makes us strong
For the Union makes us strong.
Solidarity Forever my union siblings!
It has been a pleasure and an honor to have served you in this capacity,
“There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun,
Proud alumnus, union member, and educator in District #201 since 2006.
Dr. Hentze is the author of High Finance with Hentze, a monthly blog that provides news about District 201's current financial state.