Middle class benefits from employee free choice

Posted May 17, 2009, at 8:59 p.m.

I am an Air Force veteran and a proud Mainer. For some of those in Bangor, I may be the person you trust to deliver your mail each day. I grew up in a small town right here in Maine; hayed for local farmers, raked blueberries for school clothing and washed dishes at the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Corinth.

My father was a union member with the Laborers in Brewer. That is how I first learned about unions. I took his better wages and the health benefits our family had through the union for granted — until my father was diagnosed with cancer in 1981. Without his Social Security and the insurance benefits dad had through the union, we would not have made it through that time.

In 1990, I joined the Air Force. My training made me a loadmaster on a C-141 cargo plane. I logged over 1,000 hours of flight time in my first year alone. I was stationed in New Jersey, but I spent most of my time abroad in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Uganda and Panama.

After my honorable discharge in January 1998, I secured a part-time job at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in South Berwick in February. My fiancee and I scraped by in our one-bedroom apartment in Saco; and we hoped I would become full-time someday.

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I took the postal exam that summer and was offered a job here in Bangor. I earned $13 an hour with three weeks of annual leave and expanded health benefits because it was a union job and I was credited for my time in the service. My job security and increased earnings enabled my fiancee — now my wife — to attend college and get her degree in nursing. She works in the pediatric unit at Eastern Maine Medical Center and is a member of her union. Unions made a critical difference for our family joining the middle class.

Working hard used to give everyone a chance to improve their lives, but working families really have it rough right now. Our state is now at an 8.1 percent unemployment rate, and good-paying jobs leaving Maine are replaced by low-wage jobs with no benefits or job security.

The news for veterans is not any better. One out of five veterans who recently returned from tours of duty remains unemployed. One out of four veterans finding a job since leaving the service earns less than $21,840 a year.

Honoring the brave men and women who serve our country starts with fighting for an economy that works for everyone. They should have the same opportunities I have had. It is no surprise that the decline of the middle class can be linked to the decline of unions in America. One solution to making sure workers can level the playing field is by giving them the opportunity to collectively bargain for fair wages and benefits. If we continue down the path we have followed for the past 30 years, the middle class will quickly disappear.

I support the Employee Free Choice Act because if enacted, it would let workers form a union when a simple majority of workers in the workplace sign cards indicating they want one instead of going through a company-controlled process.

In the Air Force we had a saying for complainers: “You signed your name on the dotted line.” Each of us knew what we were doing when we joined up. If my signature was good enough to serve in our military, it should be good enough to be honored by my government and employer when I sign up to join a union.

America’s veterans have sacrificed much to protect our way of life. We honor them not by valuing the short-term greed of CEOs more than long-term economic health of the middle class. Working families power our economy, and working families are struggling now more than ever to make ends meet.

You can starve a milk cow only so long before it stops producing and dies. Our unions built the middle class, and can rebuild it again. Let’s pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Michael Allen is a letter carrier in Bangor who served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years.

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