Why Unions Are Different

When I was elected to Congress in 2008, I asked to join the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). Why? Because I was a government employee. The AFGE negotiates benefits for government employees, including me. If I were going to benefit from that, I felt that I should pay my dues. I’m not the “free rider” type.
I was told that this was an unusual request. In fact, no one could remember any Member of Congress making that request before. That didn’t bother me in the least. I joined the AFGE, and paid my dues.
There is another, deeper reason why I wanted to join the union: I don’t see a lot of other organizations fighting for the common good.
After I was elected again in November, I was inundated with correspondence from all sorts of groups who wanted me to do something for them. Not for us. For them. Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Now, to be fair, some of these requests were for worthwhile causes. More were not. Either way, it was “gimme.”
With one exception.
Here is a letter that I received from Joseph Hansen, the President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW):
Congratulations on your election to the 113th Congress.
The American people spoke loud and clear on Election Day.
They want a Congress that works for all Americans, not just a wealthy few.
They want a Congress that fights for Main Street, not Wall Street.
They want a Congress that helps create good-paying jobs that can support a family.
They want a Congress that balances the budget responsibly, by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share while protecting programs like Social Security and Medicare.
They want a Congress that protects the rights of workers, women, and minorities.
Most of all, they want a Congress that works with President Obama to give more families access to the American Dream.
I look forward to working with you toward that end.
Sincerely, Joseph T. Hansen.
Amen to that, brother. Yes, President Hansen, I look forward to working with you toward that end.
You see what’s missing from this UFCW letter? Gimme, gimme, gimme.
On the letterhead of the UFCW’s stationery is the motto, “A VOICE for working America.” That’s something that I would be proud to have on my stationery, too.
This is a time of hyper-partisan warfare, when selfishness parades itself as a virtue. But amidst all that smoke there are still some of us – the UFCW, me – who can discern the bare outlines of something called “the common good.” The common good — that’s our flag. And that’s why unions are different.
And the rocket’s red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night,
That our flag was still there.
Congressman Alan Grayson