I work at a big UPS hub, moving packages. I've been there for 11 years. I'm in a "right to work" state, so it's voluntary. So, why was I a free rider for so long? Why did I change? That's part of a long story, which has some relevance to how labor is squeezed. So, let's jump the squiggle.
Entry level jobs at UPS are almost always part-time. At my hub, it's 13 years before you can apply for a full time position. When I started, I was broke. Believe me, 52 year old men do not go to work unloading trucks unless they are desperate. Starting pay is $8.50 an hour, and on unload, I was getting about 17 hours a week. Take-home was around $125 per. If you're broke, and taking home 500 a month, 36 bucks for union dues is too much, especially when rent is 325. As you might imagine, I also didn't intend to stay there very long. Well, I've been wrong before.
Additionally, to some extent, part-timers are a different priority from the full-time employees, the ones who most people think of as UPS workers; the delivery drivers, the over-the-road truckers. Nevertheless, we enjoy a level of benefits almost unknown for part-time workers these days, including health insurance and a defined benefit pension.
I certainly know that the union is the only reason I have these benefits, and the main reason that we have tolerable working conditions. But even though my income has risen, it's a long way from a plush lifestyle, and my "other" job has faded across the years. Sure, I'm doing better than a lot, but there are few luxuries. Restaurants, night clubs with live music, movies, cable TV, these are not on my radar. But, you know something? It's been too long. The union has been there for two contract negotiations while I've been there, and there's another one under way now.
I only have a couple years to go before I retire. I only have to tolerate the new contract, whatever it may be like, for a short time. But it's way past time. The union needs members, it needs money, and if it comes to it, it may need bodies on the picket lines if there isn't a good contract offer. And I know where I belong if that happens.
It's pretty bad when you have to work that long and hard at a union job, to have a marginal level of comfort. And then, the company, which has posted record profits, is trying to cut benefits. The people I work with, day after day, they are a great cross section; young to middle aged, (plus me, who's freaking old) multicultural. Maybe they aren't movers and shakers. They're hard working people who get those brown boxes to your doorstep. They are folks who try to put food on the table, raise families, keep the wolf away, and maybe have a few beers on the weekend, and I'm a part of it all. And that's why I joined the union this week.