Weekends off? I love them. I bet you do too. How about pensions? Paid vacation time? The end of child labor in America? All these are things most of us can support without much argument. We can thank decades of organizing and advocacy from labor unions for all of that—and so much more.
I joined my first union almost 15 years ago. From my first days in Actors’ Equity — part of the AFL-CIO family of affiliated unions — I immediately felt the support I lacked before. My working conditions improved dramatically, as did pay, healthcare, educational programs, and on and on and on. When the chips are down, like during a pandemic, it’s nice to be reminded we are not alone on our journey. And who exemplifies that better than a union?
While I may have moved on to a different career, benefiting from — and fighting for — unions is at the core of who I am and the work I am honored to do. I am astonished that there aren’t more union members running for and winning elected office, especially in a state like Pennsylvania that has fueled the growth of America’s most essential industries for generations. We need leaders who have, as I have, found safety, solidarity, and success because of unions.
I won’t need on-the-job training when I get to Harrisburg; I’m already doing the work of fighting for our workers. Over the last decade I wrote and helped pass more than 25 state and local laws, including right here in Pennsylvania, opening up billions of dollars in contracts and economic development. Engaging the support of unions and advocating for their inclusion on major projects has been key to my success as a lawmaker and advocate over these many years.
One of the most important lessons I have learned from working across America with unions is the power of standing shoulder to shoulder with people who come from different walks of life. You quickly come to understand that you share a common goal: a better way of life for you, your family, and your community. Unions are the living embodiment of “when we all do better, we all do better.” I have seen and experienced firsthand the power of building a bigger table, adding chairs to that table, and coming together to bake a bigger pie to share with everyone at that table. That is how you have an equitable recovery.
Equality of opportunity is key to unlocking the outcomes we all want to see.
It is a proven fact that union members in the United States earn significantly more than non-union workers in the same roles. More Americans than ever are working in low-wage jobs and are without health care and the means to save for retirement, start a family, or buy a home. To jumpstart the American economy, especially after this pandemic, let’s make it easier than ever to organize and allow higher wages to reach more Americans. That means other sectors of the economy, from tourism and restaurants, to real estate and car dealerships, will have more customers with greater incomes to spend in their communities. And that means more jobs will be created for those that need them.
In 2022 we will be presented with a huge opportunity. Through the roll-out of the federal and state infrastructure packages, as well as the elections of our representatives at every level of government, we have to reaffirm the power and importance of unions. In talking with our neighbors and our colleagues, we all need to celebrate the immediate impacts of good living wages, assured healthcare, and workforce safety, as well as the countless benefits to all of society that come from workers who have a sense of stability and solidarity.
I believe in unions. I will fight for unions. And I will always be proud to carry my union card in my wallet. My hope and prayer is to be able to carry that card onto the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as one of the strongest champions for unions, working people, and our economy that we’ve had in a long, long time.
Jonathan Lovitz is a democratic candidate for the 182nd District (Center City) of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He is a union member and small business public policy expert living in Center City.