Union Dad: Economic Justice and a Rich Family Spirit

When I was growing up in Cleveland, my dad, Emmett Saunders, Jr. was a bus driver and a proud member of the Amalgamated Transit Union, ATU. Although he passed away in 2009, the lessons he taught about what it means to be a union member have never left me. That’s why I’m proud to be a union son, and proud to be a union dad.

I can clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table and having conversations about the value of unions and what they meant for working families like ours. My dad had a strong role model in his own father, my grandfather, Emmett Saunders, Sr. Granddad was a principal, community activist and president of the West Virginia State Teachers’ Association, the professional organization for the state’s black teachers — at a time when membership in the West Virginia Education Association was segregated.

My mom was a union member as well. After raising my brother and me, she went back to school, earned a college degree and taught at the local community college. One of the very first things she did was join the American Association of University Professors, AAUP.

Union membership meant our family didn’t have to struggle on low-wage, no-benefit jobs to make ends meet. It meant my dad could be confident that my brother and I would have more opportunities than he had.

Because of my dad’s good union job, not only did my family have enough for the necessities, we had enough for extras, too. We went to Euclid Beach, the now-closed local amusement park on Lake Erie, a few times a year. We took road trips to different parts of the country and visited our family in West Virginia every summer.

But stories of union families like mine are becoming less common. The right to bargain collectively is under attack across the nation. As bargaining is weakened, working families like the one I grew up in are losing their footing and their hold on the American Dream. Unions work because, through solidarity, we can have a voice and the power that goes with that voice to support our families. That’s how workers get strong, and how America gets stronger…

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