HOW UNIONS LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD:
Winning Essay in Sandoval Scholarship Competition
Editor’s Note: This year’s contestants in the Al Sandoval Competitive Scholarship were asked to write on this topic: “Corporations generally have far more influence in our country’s economy than individual citizens. Discuss ways in which labor unions help level the playing field for working people. You are encouraged to use examples.” This year’s winning essay was by Madeline Willett, daughter of IBEW Local 1245 member Richard Willett, line crew foreman for the City of Lodi.
By Madeline Willett
When the Industrial Revolution hit America there were a lot of people and immigrants looking for jobs and the industries would provide them, but under poor circumstances. Because there were so many unemployed people looking for jobs the industries took advantage of this competition and would hire the workers who would work for the least amount and under the worst conditions. This caused abuse of employees and horrible conditions.
The workers lived horrible lives. Upton Sinclair portrayed the unfairness in his book The Jungle. The arduous working hours and lack of safety lead to poor unhealthy lives for workers. The immigrants came to America to find better lives with fairer standards and without the unions this hope they had might not have been possible. Unions were created to stand up for the workers and eliminate the monopoly the industries had over the people. Unions serve as the negotiators between the employees and the bosses. They have helped stop discrimination in the work force, the abuse of child labor, and allowed workers to achieve better conditions and pay.
An example of labor unions fighting for the workers’ rights is the acceptance of the eight-hour work day. Many workers, under the encouragement of unions, would go on strike at companies if the conditions were too unbearable and after a period of time businesses would fold and compromise with the workers.
Another major event in the history of labor unions is the restrictions put onto child labor. During the Industrial Revolution children were working at extremely young ages and in dangerous and even fatal conditions. They also worked extremely long hours, but slowly unions began to restrict the abuse of children in the work force and limited the ages and hours that kids could work.
The book The Jungle also serves as a good example of what kind of conditions children, adults, and elderly people were forced to work under in order to survive. Those conditions do not exist today in our society. Today the major labor organizations are the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations) and they focus more on passing legislation through congress in favor of the workers. However, with the economy in a slump, the labor unions today are making sure that cuts in pay and in jobs are fair. When businesses are pressured it comes down on the workers and the unions act as a buffer for the employees.
Unions have done well for workers as is seen throughout our history. Without them the conditions and lifestyles of the workers were horrible and inhumane. Now conditions are much more fair and safe all due to the negotiations of labor unions. The need for them has not disappeared even though conditions are much better than they have been. Our world and industry changes with time and improvements and the unions will always be here to make sure that the voice of the workers does not get lost in the change.