Baltimore Sun

Renaissanc­e of the labor union

- By Pia Morrison — Pia Morrison, Gaithersbu­rg The writer is president of SEIU Local 500, which represents over 20,000 educators, caregivers and advocates across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

From schools to Starbucks, and Apple to Amazon, labor unions are experienci­ng a powerful, public resurgence across the region and the nation. The movement is fueled by workers who, in the wake of the Great Resignatio­n, more clearly recognize their power and the value of collective advocacy in the workplace. We must capitalize on this moment to unravel the systemic inequities embedded in our society.

As SEIU Local 500 president, I have witnessed this resurgence firsthand. I’ve had the privilege of engaging directly with workers in Maryland and Washington, D.C., who have banded with their colleagues to push back on the status quo and demand safety, dignity and fair pay from their employers. In the last three years, SEIU Local 500 has welcomed new members from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Howard University and the Democratic National Committee. These members join a strong SEIU Local 500 family made up of 20,000-plus workers, including support profession­als at Montgomery County Public Schools, nontenured faculty at Goucher College, Family Childcare Providers and staff from Planned Parenthood.

The renaissanc­e of labor unions has brought direct, tangible benefits to more working-class families across this region. Collective bargaining agreements have produced meaningful increases in wages and benefits (once believed out of reach); prioritize­d health, safety and stability, as the nation battled through the COVID-19 pandemic; and helped ensure workers receive the respect and recognitio­n they deserve for their contributi­ons to company success.

As important as the direct benefits to working conditions to our region’s workforce, labor unions are also channeling their members’ voices to enact policies that address economic inequality and strengthen the foundation of our economy for all residents. In 2021, SEIU Local 500 spearheade­d a successful effort to expand collective bargaining rights to Maryland’s Community College employees, who will now have a meaningful voice at their workplace. SEIU Local 500 and other labor unions also worked in collaborat­ion with Maryland lawmakers to advance legislatio­n that provides education support profession­als with a $500 bonus in recognitio­n of their unwavering commitment to student learning and well-being during the height of the pandemic.

The shared strength of labor unions was also vital to this year’s passage of legislatio­n by the Maryland General Assembly and D.C. City Council that provided bonuses and increased wages for much-needed early child care workers. And just this year, SEIU Local 500 was a leader on the Time to Care Coalition that worked on and passed paid family and medical leave, which current and future generation­s of Marylander­s will benefit from for years to come.

Labor union advocacy does not end at the worksite or the statehouse. Union members were front and center at last month’s Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and the Moral March on Washington and to the Polls, where people from around the nation gathered to demand action from lawmakers on voting rights, economic inequality, and climate change. Each of these issues directly impacts the lives of our members, and we continue to make our members’ voices heard at the ballot box by endorsing candidates for public office who prioritize workers and working families.

While our recent victories have garnered attention, it is the decades of legwork by our members and workers organizing that have prepared us for success in this moment and in the future. Unfortunat­ely, defenders of the status quo have taken notice of our power and momentum. They spend their hours trying to convince workers that they are stronger alone than when joining together.

We know our workers’ immense will cannot be stifled — and, whether or not we’re in the public eye, we’ll continue to fight for them and their families.

 ?? BALTIMORE SUN KARL MERTON FERRON/ ?? Stephanie Hernandez, left, organizer with Workers United, and Kieren Levy, a barista who works at the Mount Vernon Starbucks on North Charles Street, stand outside the establishm­ent. Coffee baristas in the Baltimore area have joined a fast-growing national movement to unionize Starbucks shops amid conditions they say have worsened during the pandemic.
BALTIMORE SUN KARL MERTON FERRON/ Stephanie Hernandez, left, organizer with Workers United, and Kieren Levy, a barista who works at the Mount Vernon Starbucks on North Charles Street, stand outside the establishm­ent. Coffee baristas in the Baltimore area have joined a fast-growing national movement to unionize Starbucks shops amid conditions they say have worsened during the pandemic.

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