Unity and Strength: Why membership is so important

By Mike Millsap, District 7 Director

Unity and Strength for Workers. These words are literally in our name, but what do they really mean? I  want to share with you a story out of our district that I think is a good example of why nothing is more important than our unity, our strength and our members. 

This story begins at Batesville Casket in Batesville, Indiana – now a so-called right to work state. Obviously, the plant manufactures caskets with about 320 employees. It’s an open shop where Local 525U has been privileged to represent employees at this plant for about 40 years, and we’re about to begin bargaining there next month.

Over the four decades our union has been here, we’ve had good times and bad times. The difference? The level of our strength and unity. Like at all locals, when our membership is together, when we all have each other’s backs, and when we maintain the ability to be able to withhold our work, we have more leverage. 

Leverage is important especially during negotiations with the company. Three years ago, Batesville Casket’s final company proposal had drastic changes to the healthcare with minimal wage increases. The union’s bargaining committee did not like the proposal and did not take it back to the membership for a vote. At some point some non-members took a petition up for a decertification from the union. In order to block the decertification to keep the USW, the bargaining committee took a not-so-great proposal to the membership, which voted for the agreement – and to keep the union to fight another day.

That day is now here. On April 10, we have our first bargaining session of 2019 with Batesville Casket. It’s important that this time around we send a clear message to the company: we are strong, we are unified and we will stick together to get the best deal we can get for our members. 

We’re in this together so here are some things all of us can do right now to help us achieve this unity and strength:

We should all remind each other often that despite what companies may say, there are no guarantees without a union contract. There is no way to have a say in wages, healthcare, benefits, health and safety and other issues at work without a union. The gains we win when we negotiate together as a union often outweigh the cost of dues, and these are gains we would not likely win without a union. Make no mistake about it, that is why companies want to keep us divided, weak or keep us out altogether. 

Our unity and strength at Batesville or anywhere gives us leverage, and it sends clear message that if anyone takes us on, we will stand up and fight back!

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