by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Labor unions were created to be an advocate on behalf of workers on issues ranging from low pay and long hours to unsafe or unsanitary working conditions. Today, unions continue to negotiate for better wages, working conditions and proper skills – all shown to have a positive ripple effect in local economies.
“As long as there are workers, there will be a need for unions,” said retired labor organizer Henry Burden, who was one of the guest speakers Thursday, June 20, at the Progressive Club of the Islands meeting. He used his 30 years of experience as a union organizer, business representative and regional director of United Food & Commercial Workers to discuss the importance of unions in Lee County.
Burden was joined by Painters and Allied Trades International Union, Local 2301, District 78, AFL-CIO, Unit Chairperson Chris Krupick, who assisted in organizing non-administrative employees of the Island Water Association earlier this year. He has worked for the IWA since 2012 and recently spent time in Tallahassee with the Working Family Lobby Corps to learn how local politics affect workers.
“Take interest in what’s going on in your community, do your homework and vote,” was Krupick’s primary message. While he couldn’t comment on the loss of two key benefits – retiree medi-gap insurance and the travel reimbursement bonus – discussed at the IWA annual meeting, it was what prompted employees to unanimously vote and unionize in a short three months.
“Sanibel has some of the lowest water rates in the state,” said PCI Board of Director Chet Sadler, who moderated the meeting and campaigned for a IWA Board of Director seat. “Water rates could be raised by just a $1 or $2 per month (on a little more than 5,000 accounts) to keep those benefits employees have had for the past 15 years.”
Locally, the IWA joins the City of Sanibel, police and fire departments, The Sanibel School and Lee County Electric Cooperative with union employees. There are more than 16,000 union workers represented by the Southwest Florida AFL-CIO with teachers being the largest group of members.
The Florida AFL-CIO reports union members earn 26 percent more than non-union workers, and it’s higher for minorities. It also reports 95 percent of members have health insurance and a pension plan available – compared to 65 percent of non-union workers with those same benefits.
The next PCI meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 18, at the Sanibel Public Library, 770 Dunlop Rd.