I remember the day I knew my father had the most important job in the world. One Sunday morning, my mom laid out matching dresses, shoes and gloves for my sister and me. My dad walked out in his dress uniform, shiny shoes, white gloves and hat with a badge. He explained we would be laying a wreath in memory of the firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty. I didn’t fully understand the solemnity of Firefighter Memorial Sunday at the time, but I knew that my dad’s job was a dangerous one and every time he left for his shift, there was the possibility he may never come back.
Newburyport fire stations were my childhood playground. I remember looking up at the drying hoses in Market Square, sliding down the pole at the station on Greenleaf Street when no one was looking, and of course, honking horns on firetrucks while wearing my dad’s boots and jacket.
Many summer nights, we would go to Webster’s Dairy and bring ice cream to the Market Square station. The firefighters would sit on the bench outside, eating ice cream, and chat. There was a bond that existed between them, and for me, these men were like having a whole bunch of protective uncles. We were a family.
In 2000, my father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and had to retire. I was grateful that he belonged to a union who worked on his behalf securing benefits that allowed him to get the best treatment possible and retire with his full pension. He is alive today and able to afford to live in the same community he protected as a civil servant for 34 years thanks to the bargaining power of unions.
I come from a long line of union workers beginning with my great-uncle Angelo, an organizer during the Bread and Roses Strike of 1912. The workers were immigrants, including children, united in fighting the long hours and low wages of the millworkers. The success of the strike can be attributed to the fact they put aside their religious and cultural beliefs to fight for the common good.
Years later, the fight for fair wages and benefits continues. Currently, experienced USW gas workers are being locked out by National Grid over contract negotiations. National Grid is putting public safety at risk and has canceled the health insurance of over 1,000 families. Wealthy corporations putting profits over people is nothing new; it is a continuous battle that must be fought if we want the middle class to survive.
The collective bargaining of unions was the driving force in creating child labor laws, minimum wage, health care, workers’ compensation, injury protection, retirement security, and the weekend. Unions protect and defend the rights of teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, construction workers, ironworkers, gas workers, electrical workers, service employees and postal workers.
Over 14 million U.S. workers belong to a union. Most recently, the tireless work of the Massachusetts Nurses Association has succeeded in placing Question 1: Safe patient limits on the ballot. A yes vote on Question 1 will put patients before profits, improving patient safety and quality of care.
The Janus v. AFSCME ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is an attempt to erode the bargaining powers of unions. Janus overturned what has been law for 40 years and is a form of union busting in an attempt to hurt hardworking families in favor of a wealthy few. The media has portrayed Janus as a death knell for unions, but this view underestimates and disregards the familial aspect of unions. Unions, like families, stick together when times get tough. They fight for what is right.
The gas workers who have been on the job for years could abandon the younger workers, take their pensions, health care and go, but they won’t. They are protecting the next generation of gas workers like the ones before them. This is what a family does.
I was honored to march in Boston with locked-out USW gas workers. What I saw were unions sticking together the way they did in 1912. Over 35 unions attended the march with hundreds of workers standing in solidarity for the men and women of USW 12003 and 12012. The pride on the faces of these hardworking union members as we sang the national anthem was a beautiful and patriotic moment I will always remember.
As your state representative, I will fight hard to promote a strong middle class here in Massachusetts.
I will be a champion of the middle class, the unions, and of those who at times feel left behind. And at every turn, I will have your back, working tirelessly to put you first because that’s what a strong leader does.