Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Labor Day – Unions… A Matter Of Life And Death

Ah yes, Labor Day.  The unofficial end of Summer.  The return to school.  A long weekend of parties and picnics.  And this year, unfortunately, a nightmare for the eastern coast of the United States and the Bahamas dealing with a major hurricane, Dorian.

Many believe that Labor Day is about just taking the day off, because you are a worker.  Officially, Labor Day is a Federal holiday, which we ALL enjoy, dedicated to the labor movement and organized labor, also known as “unions.”  That is right.  If you are anti-union, you can stop reading right now, and get to work.  Well, after you read this post, because my post today is more than just about a labor movement.  It meant the difference to me with life and death.

In November of 1988, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  I was working at the time for an appliance parts distributor.  I thought I was lucky because I had health insurance.  The truth is, the insurance was not good enough.  But again, I was lucky, because I had an employer who cared.  I was not just a number, or an expense.  In today’s work culture, employees are nothing more than something to affect the bottom line.  My employer recognized that I needed better health insurance, and took the initiative and got it, because of me.  His decision however, actually benefited everyone in the company.  Everyone ended up with the better health insurance.

As time would go on, I would change jobs, and no longer in cancer treatment, I was no longer able to get any employer to give me health insurance because I was considered too much of a health risk, a liability.  That is, until March of 1997, when I was hired by a major pharmaceutical company.  As a new employee, following my probationary period, I would officially become a union member, the third generation involved in a union.  And with the benefit of being in a union, I automatically qualified for health insurance, something everyone else had denied me, because they could (at the time before the Affordable Care Act came to be).  A union health insurance plan is a “group” plan, which means that everyone gets covered.  Risks are combined with healthy individuals, and insurance companies hopefully were able to minimize their losses because of the large memberships.

So how did my union save my life?  I was roughly nine years out as a survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but my health was good.  I had gotten by without health insurance.  And for ten years after I joined my union, I remained pretty healthy.

But in 2008, I got the shock of my life, when it was discovered that the treatments I went through for my cancer, had been causing late effects that had finally developed to a point to require attention, in a big way.  I was diagnosed with a “widow maker” heart blockage caused by radiation therapy I had received eighteen years earlier.  Were in not for the great health coverage I now had, and the number of tests that needed to be done on a “healthy 42 year-old”, I would have died.  Over the years since, I have had to deal with several more medical emergencies that have come up, all from my cancer past.  But without having the health insurance provided by my company and union, I would not be typing this post.

I get why people want to demonize unions.  But I strongly support unions and what they do for workers.  Think about it.  Back in the 1950’s people did not have to work three jobs to make ends meet.  Today workers struggle doing similar work to the 1950’s for salaries that in no way kept up with the rate of inflation.  And in spite of CEO’s making millions, they still force employees to work for minimum wage, or less.  Because of unions, group insurance coverage was pretty much guaranteed without being discriminated against.  And just as important, an employee had backing to prevent being reprimanded for anything other than work performance, such as chronic health issues.  Of course, unions were the ones who fought to improve working conditions, overtime rates and so much more.

And without my membership in the Steelworker’s union, I definitely would not be here, right now, paying respect to the holiday that acknowledges the labor movement.

Happy Labor Day.

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