MY VIEW Quality of life better with unions

John Zeman - WFSE Member, Spokane

I’m from South Dakota. It’s a right to work state. I'd like to share my experience and why I'm #UnionStrong.

The average salary of state workers in South Dakota is close to half to two-thirds of what workers in Washington make. The cost of living there is about the same as Spokane, cheaper than Seattle.

So for some pertinent examples, a position here in Washington pays around $90,000 — the same position in South Dakota pays about $40-45,000. So there’s a huge difference in pay. But they usually account that by saying it’s cheaper to live in South Dakota. But housing prices are about the same per square foot to build as it is in Spokane, where I am now.

So that was kind of the biggest discrepancy, looking at not having any representation. The state workers in South Dakota had an association and a part time lobbyist that would work on some of the issues, but there was no one to support workers. Everyone was basically on their own and they had to live on the whim of the legislature, and they couldn’t push back at all. Any kind of raises or benefits, they were kind of held hostage to cost of living increases without any pay increases. And if there was money left over the legislature might give them a little bit of a cost of living raise.

So looking at a state that does not have any kind of union representation or union backing, just the quality of life is so much better when you have union support, so that any injustices can be worked through.

People will listen to you when you have strength in numbers and are working together to get fair compensation for work.

It’s kind of a collective thing; we have to all work together to have strength in numbers. You look at the cost of being a member of the union – yeah that’s more money you could have in your pocket, but if we all thought that, and we all quit, we would be right back where I was a few years ago in South Dakota. I made $70 too much to get food stamps and Medicaid for my kids. So it was a huge difference – I had more job responsibilities there and I could almost qualify for food stamps. So you look at strength in numbers, and developing a fellowship with other workers so that we can benefit from the strengths of the union, so we can do our public service work. And that’s why we do this, is because we enjoy helping others, and being fairly compensated so that we can continue to help others without deductions in pay.

Unions help us negotiate fair compensation for the good work we do, to help our society move along in the right direction. We need good compensation so we have good people. Without good compensation you’re not going to get good people or safe people that have a lot of knowledge and skill, because they’re not going to sacrifice time with their family to make more money, so they can feed their family.

Thank you.