Once upon a time, working people were at a big disadvantage in dealing with their employers. If a worker wanted to be paid enough to feed their children, or to have Sundays off, or to have gloves for handling the bars of red-hot iron, they’d have to go to the boss, cap in hand, and ask if that Might Pretty-please be available? And if the boss didn’t feel like providing it, he could tell the worker, “If you don’t like working here – quit! There are plenty more where you came from.”
That’s why labor unions were formed: so that the boss wasn’t just dealing with one worker, but with all of them. It’s thanks to unions that people who have never held a union job can take for granted a two-day weekend, a forty-hour work week, increased pay for overtime, sick leave, parental leave and many other benefits.
These days, however, you don’t hear so much about unions. In fact, you might not know a single person who has a union job. You hear people say that unions are obsolete, although if you ask them what has replaced unions as a way of protecting the rights of workers, you don’t hear much of an answer. Still, regardless of how active a role unions may play in your life, there are many unions active in Corvallis and the surrounding communities.
The Service Employees International Union, Local 503, 606 SW 15th St., Corvallis, OR 97331
Maybe the most visible of local unions, SEIU represents 1.9 million employees in one hundred different roles, including government workers, school employees (other than teachers) and caregivers. You often see their purple and yellow stickers on cars in parking lots at state and local government offices.
The National Association of Letter Carriers, Local 1274, 216 SW Madison Ave. # 3, Corvallis, OR 97333
Make all the jokes you want: the truth is, no private corporation could do what the Postal Service does, not even at ten times the price they charge. The NALC is one of several unions which keep the Postal Service running, and get your mail to you.
The Coalition of Graduate Employees, Local 6069, AFT, AFL-CIO
For decades, college instructors exploited graduate students as cheap labor, paid little or nothing and made to work long hours on the pretense that they were simply students who were being granted the privilege of helping their teachers conduct research. Graduate students eventually decided they’d had enough of this unequal relationship and formed a union. Things aren’t perfect, but they’ve definitely improved. The CGE, which is comprised of 51 individual unions, represents graduate Teaching and research assistants at Oregon State University, as well as many other schools in the United States and Canada.
The Industrial Workers of the World can be contacted on Facebook.
There was once a union, a hundred years ago, which intended to organize workers of all kinds in a single organization. A union like the IWW would have had immense power, obviously. It terrified the corporations and governments of the day, and it was mercilessly attacked and driven underground — but it still exists. It’s not really a labor union these days, it’s more of a political activist group, but you can still see the “Wobblies,” as they’re known, appearing with their red flag with the globe printed on it at different events around Corvallis.
As noted, there are also several labor unions with offices in neighboring towns:
• The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 280, Tangent
• United Steelworkers Albany
• Oregon Education Association Albany
• Teamsters Union Salem
• United Food & Commercial Workers Springfield
• Association of Oregon Corrections Employees Salem
• Construction General Laborers Salem
• Dominguez Family Labor Salem
• Sheet Metal Workers International Association Springfield
By John M. Burt