Liam Brennan’s CT Mirror essay “You want a latte? Your barista wants fair pay and sick leave” shines light on the importance of unions in the workplace, but most importantly how this can play a critical function in the health and wellbeing of employees.

I was not one to be concerned with working in a unionized organization until the pandemic of 2020. Throughout my adult years I’ve been employed in various industries including accounting, law-related, transport, and healthcare. However, I have never worked for an organization that was a part of the union. I can see how it would be beneficial throughout my many work experiences within companies with poor social organizational cultures.

Most of my employers who offered benefits and paid time off, offered low quality products with high premium cost. During my early 20’s I worked for a car leasing company with no paid time off nor healthcare benefits. This company had over 30 employees that were collectively in the same boat, not having any benefits. In retrospect, if we had unionized, we would have been better off as there would been an entity seeing to it that the company provided some benefits to their employees. As a result, people would have a better mental state and look forward to working instead of worrying about getting ill or even missing a day’s pay. Over the years I was fortunate enough to work for other large companies, but sadly much did not change as it relates to low quality benefits with high premium.

March 2020 the world stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic! At this point I was working in healthcare, at a very prestigious hospital in Westchester, New York. COVID-19 was spreading like wildfire and people were getting sick everywhere, sadly some passed on. Unfortunately, all essential workers were expected to show up and get the job done although masks, gloves, and all PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies were given once per week and in shortage and backorder. Hallways, floors, and bedrooms were all cramped with potential COVID positive patients, not only were we not given proper PPEs gears but were mandated to work double shifts for at least five days per week in very deplorable conditions.

Sadly, at that hospital, employees were 95% outsourced from agencies. These agencies were non-unionized, therefore there was nothing we could do except work or be unemployed. As for the rest of the staff that were members of a union, their representatives stepped up and made sure they were at least given hazard pay.

On the other hand, my longtime friend Matt does not embrace the same idea. As a single dad of three children, this is another payment that is taken from his salary every pay period. It is hard enough for him to maintain the necessities for his family, shelter, food, and clothing. “Yes, the union will go into action for its members, but members are obligated to pay union fees, like everything else nothing is free,” he said.

After reading Brennan’s essay I have come to the realization that an employer’s workforce as a collective is much more powerful to negotiate the complexities of employer/employee relations. A union greatly enhances the possibility of higher wages, better healthcare and can steward a work and family life balance for its members. I believe many employers opt for a non-unionized workforce as they are driven solely by profits. I wish Brennan gave facts as to why the numbers of union employees dwindled in the 21st century.

Tenant union is a new term which I have recently learned. As Brennan stated “tenants living in various apartment homes around the state have bound together to form tenants’ union in order to improve living conditions.” New Haven recently became the first city to recognize tenants’ union under local law.

I do believe such organizations can be tremendously helpful to navigate property owner/renter rights. Connecticut has many laws and guidelines to protect tenants, but the average renter may not have prior knowledge or anyone to assist them with obtaining such knowledge. This union can be a great resource to educate oneself on knowing their rights.

My own life experiences and the knowledge I gained learning about unions has shifted my own personal job search to identify companies with union representation and a strong culture that promotes employee satisfaction. This new outlook will function as a safeguard for my future and hopefully results in a gainful employer that I will be proud to work for.

Makeda Bryan attends Norwalk Community College.