With the increased attacks on unions from the right wing, it is more important than ever to remember everything that organized labor does for the community.
In fact, while unions' primary role is to defend and fight for the interests of dues-paying union members, it does much more. Not only in the realm of wages and benefits, but in everyday life, organized labor is leading by example.
To their credit, unions have set the bar pretty high when it comes to helping those in need. From passing the collection jar to helping locked-out or striking workers, to volunteering for the Salvation Army, organized labor is there. Below are a few examples from the St. Louis region of unions' good works during the recent holiday season:
* Unions in the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades set local records when they mobilized union members and families to help the Salvation Army. In one day, union members raised $23,207 for families in need.
* Members of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268 donated video games, board games, puzzles, dolls, stuffed animals, DVDs, CDs, sports equipment, bicycles, wagons and over 70 gift cards to two area children's hospitals.
* International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and Machinists District 9 hosted free flu shot days for area union members and their families. The shots were provided by the Visiting Nurses Association and the Greater St. Louis Central Labor Council.
* Electrical Connection, a partnership between IBEW Local 1 and the National Electrical Contractors Association, donated $20,000 to the UJAMMA Cultural, Arts, Education and Wellness Center.
* At the St. Louis Central Labor Council's annual Christmas gathering over $5,710 was donated to "$5 for the Fight," a local fund set up to help union families pay their mortgage, buy medicine and keep the electricity on.
* IBEW Local 649 and Laborers Local 338 donated $1,800 to the nearby Alton, Ill., Children's Home.
* The Egyptian Building and Construction Trades Council in southern Illinois helped 230 locked-out Steelworkers Local 7-699 members with a donation of turkeys to every union family and a $2,500 check for children's clothing. Additionally, Steelworkers Local 550 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees each gave $5,000 to Local 7-699 families.
These are just a few examples of organized labor's good deeds in the St. Louis region during the holiday season. I could have listed many, many more.
Throughout the year and all over the country, unions go above and beyond the call of duty. Union members volunteer as Little League coaches; they organize neighborhood trash pickup days; they are active in their churches and other places of worship; they organize blood drives at worksites; they mentor kids in after-school and drug prevention programs.
In other words, unions and union members give!
As my grandfather, a lifelong union autoworker and World War II veteran, used to tell me, "Thank God for the union!"
Photo: St. Louis union members march in the 2010 Labor Day parade. Greater St. Louis Labor Council