On one occasion after a Sunday precinct walk in Reno on behalf of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, I was enjoying some Pollo Loco and was deep in thought. Normally on Sunday, I would be at church, I thought to myself. As if reading my mind, then-National Association of Letter Carriers President Bill Young looked at me and said, “Brother, you’re doing the Lord’s work!”
I know that seems ridiculous to some. People normally don’t equate union activism with being religious. I believe strongly that the two are compatible. As a practicing Latter-day Saint, I believe in “being anxiously engaged in a good cause”. And unionism is a good cause. Why?
Prior to the Postal Strike of 1970, a letter carrier’s starting salary was $6176, and it took him or her 21 years to earn a top salary of $8442. If you were a postal employee back then, you got a raise if Congress decided to give you one, which was not very often. Many carriers of that era had to work two or three jobs to support a family.
Imagine yourself in that situation, pre-1970. Would you be active in church if you worked a second job on Sundays? Would you have time for involvement in civic or family activities if you worked nights? Would you have the means to contribute generously to religious or charitable organizations if you barely made enough to feed your family? So what made it possible for you, a letter carrier, to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle? Collective bargaining, which the strike brought about.
So as a beneficiary of a good union job with a good salary and benefits, shouldn’t you want others to have what you have? If you belong to a missionary-minded church, you would not be shy about sharing your beliefs with others. Why wouldn’t it work the same with collective bargaining? It would be rather selfish to not want others in the general workforce to have what you have. And dangerous. If your middle-class existence was under attack by an anti-labor Congress, wouldn’t you want as many allies to stand with you as possible? And wouldn’t you want others to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle so that they could spend time with their families and give generously of their time and means to causes they believe in?
So would it be fair to say that by promoting collective bargaining and campaigning for pro-labor politicians that you are supporting family values? YES! And would it be fair to say that politicians such as Mitt Romney, Ron Johnson and Darrell Issa who say that you are 30-40 percent overpaid are NOT promoting family values? An emphatic YES! Because what they are saying is that you should work another job to make ends meet, that you should not spend time with your family, that you should not be involved with your community for good.
And a Biblical case can be made for collective bargaining. “I will be a swift witness against . . those that oppress the hireling in his wages.” (Malachi 3:5) Also, the Apostle Paul wrote the following, “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal.” (Colossians 4:1) Have you ever noticed that so-called pro-family legislators rarely advocate for pay raises for public employees? Don’t public employees have families? Wouldn’t their families be hurt if the breadwinner’s salary was cut by a third? What about the Golden Rule? How would the union-haters feel if their salaries and benefits were slashed?
I believe very strongly that union activism is an extension of one’s religious beliefs. You should never be ashamed to belong to a labor union, just as you would not be ashamed of your religion. As we help grow the middle class through our involvement with organized labor, we help others enjoy what we have. And by helping lift others into the middle class, we increase our chances of staying there.
Eric Ellis is District 4 Officer in the California State Association of Letter Carriers