Always keep in mind union contributions

Doug Gilbertson

Labor Day. For some it is the bittersweet end to the summer. The last hurrah if you will. The last camping trip, or trip to buy school clothes before the kids head back to the classroom.

But as the neighborhood fills with the smell of grills cooking burgers and brats and the laughter of children enjoying the day before heading to school, let’s turn our thoughts to what brought us this great holiday.

Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

The realization of the 40-hour workweek that has become standard across many American industries was hard fought. It took deadly accidents, employees banding together and a White House willing to listen to make it happen. Eight-hour work days became rallying cries in the latter half of the 19th century, as workers in the building trades and similar industries marched together for better conditions. The Ford Motor Company advanced the idea in 1914, when it scaled back from a 48-hour to a 40-hour workweek after founder Henry Ford believed that too many hours were bad for workers’ productivity.

The formation of unions helped to strengthen the idea of working five days a week as well. Since the development of unions in the 1800s, many individual unions have formed to help negotiate wages, benefits and working conditions of their members. Unions like United Auto Workers (UAW), American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers, Laborers’ International Union of North America, International Union of Operating Engineers, Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, and of course, Michigan Corrections Organization-SEIU.

Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO-SEIU) is a state wide local responsible for negotiating Corrections Officers’ and Forensic Security Assistants’ wages, benefits and working conditions for the approximately 6,000 men and women working inside Michigan’s prisons and the Center for Forensic Psychiatry.

MCO proudly holds the highest membership rate of any state of Michigan employee union and engages its members in things that matter most to them. We take our messages beyond just state politics and are leading a nation-wide campaign to raise the professional profile of Corrections. MCO also engages our membership through initiatives like our Officer Dignity Initiative, Military Members Committee and Young Members Workgroup. We also design and deliver world-class trainings and believe in creating future leaders with our Next Generation Training.

For the past 50 years, the MCO-SEIU Local 526M has also worked across the aisle with law makers to assist in getting bills passed that impact our members. Bills that address important corrections topics, like the Officer Dignity Initiative (HB 4119) and drones (HBs 5494, 5496, 5497) are in the legislature now. Other bills have been passed into law, including one that allows corrections officers to carry firearms in gun-free zones (HB 4159 and SB 516 of 2015) and, in the case of death in the line of duty, provide health benefits (SB 218) to the officer’s survivors.

MCO has built and maintained bipartisan relationships with legislators both in Lansing and in local communities like Marquette by building true professionals in the work force. We are helping to shape the future of corrections.

As most of you enjoy Labor Day, corrections officers will be at work because corrections is a 24/7 operation. It’s a dangerous, thankless job, but we do it to keep our communities safe.

So, enjoy this three-day weekend, and as the banner that’s hanging downtown Marquette says: Enjoying the weekend? Thank a union worker!

Editor’s note: Doug Gilbertson is a corrections officer at Baraga Correctional Facility in Baraga. He is president of Michigan Corrections Organization’s Baraga chapter. The DOC is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of the department.