Union organizers discuss history of unions at club meeting
On June 20, the Progressive Club of the Islands hosted two union organizers at its monthly meeting at the Sanibel Public Library.
Henry Burden, a retired national union organizer, gave a brief history of unions in the United States and issues he faced in his over 35 years of organizing. Chris Krupick, president of the union at the Island Water Association, gave his view of union organizing on Sanibel.
Burden walked the audience through the history of unions beginning in late 1800s with the collapse of slavery and indentured servants. The workers faced low wages, long working hours and unsafe working conditions and saw organizing as their only solution. Congress became more sympathetic toward the labor force as time passed, which led to the creation of the Department of Labor in 1913. In 1947 congress passed the Labor Management Relations Act, better known as the Taft-Hartley Act. This federal law restricts the activities and power of labor unions. The powerful unions used their organizations to strike, keeping companies in check, resulting in what Burden called the “Golden years of Unions 1950-1960.” Since then the Right to Work laws have chipped away at union membership and the strength of unions. Burden said statistics show that union wages have gone down and the wage gap between workers and management has increased dramatically. The crowd enjoyed Burden’s story of his trials and tribulations bargaining with the poultry industry on behalf of its 7,000 employees.
Krupick was born and raised in Fort Myers and Leigh Acres. He joined the Island Water Association in 2012. Last year, Krupick was the driving force behind organizing the IWA non-administrative employees. Due to current negotiations between the union and IWA, he could not give details of his unionizing effort. Club members who attended the annual IWA member meeting were dismayed to hear that the board had taken away a major healthcare benefit and the worker travel reimbursement. It was obvious that the elimination of benefits was the reason the workers organized just three months later.
“With one of the lowest water rates in the state, the IWA board could increase rates by $1 or $2 to maintain the benefits of the workers,” Progressive Club of the Islands Board Member Chet Sadler, who moderated the club’s meeting, said.
At the end of the meeting, Sadler asked the speakers what actions attendees could take as a result. Krupic called for each person to reach out to union members on Sanibel and get to know them and their views. Burden agreed that communication will go a long way toward understanding the relevance of unions.