I Once Thought that Unions Did Nothing for Me. I Was Wrong.
Joseph W. Brennan D.S.W., M. Div.
For most of my life I was not a member of a union. I managed either non-profit organizations, or ran my own counseling service. My health insurance, paid as a single provider was exorbitant. Pre-existing health conditions eventually eliminated my eligibility. Experienced professionals were abandoning their practices for agencies offering union negotiated benefits. For a time, I was a union representative, but it never dawned on me how I had been benefiting from union activity all these years.
My father spent his entire life working in the New York City Police Department, and was a member of the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, the PBA. In his early sixties he had a serious heart attack and became disabled. Thankfully union benefits, and its heart plan covered several years of medical assistance including oxygen, medicine, medical treatments, and hospitalization. Were it not for the union, and its negotiated benefits, the payment of these services would have fallen upon me, and I would have been facing a life long status of bankruptcy.
However, this is not the end of the story. The union benefits also covered my mother who has lived thirty years beyond my father. Today, at ninety eight, she is a frequent visitor to the local hospital where she is on a first name basis with all the staff. Her stays are often and sometimes prolonged. Were it not for New York’s PBA there is no way that my Social Security check could ever cover her medical expenses. Were it not for the union I would be renting a trailer, and patching up the holes in the wall with my doctoral diploma. Until now, I never realized how much both my family and I have benefited from the efforts of the PBA, and its union representatives.
There are those today who feel that public servants have it too easy, that they are paid too much, and their benefits are too costly. Police and firemen risk their lives every day for the protection of our community. Teachers face the difficult task of educating all our children, both those who are gifted and those who are not, those who are physically or emotionally challenged, and those who are the victims of domestic or neighborhood violence. The unions are the one social institution that ensures both its members, and the community, that these difficult tasks, requiring well trained professionals, continue to be performed. Returning to this article’s title, I challenged myself to reexamine my beliefs. Today, society’s challenge is not to give mere lip service to what unions have achieved in the past, but to realize how they continue to serve and maintain our communities. Do I need the unions, do we need the unions? The answer is a redounding, YES.