Copyright 2017. Sheet Metal Workers Local 12. All rights reserved.
Local Union 12 - Pittsburgh, PA
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APPRENTICE DAY at State Capitol in Harrisburg, PA - June 27, 2017
Today was a very special day for my father. His union (shout out to Sheet Metal Workers Local #12) recognizes and gives a commemorative pin to members at milestone years of union membership. Today Papa Angelo received his 50-year membership pin. This year was the first year that family could attend the picnic and ceremony and, unfortunately, despite my efforts, I could not get home for this. But I still feel the need to say a little something....so here is an open letter to my father, THOMAS ANGELO:
Congratulations on such a remarkable milestone. It's hard to believe....50 years of membership. You don't look old enough to warrant this?? And on this occasion, I want to take a minute to say here what I didn't get to in person.
From as far back as I can remember, you instilled in me the importance of unions and having representation. You don't always appreciate it when you are young. But the older I became, the more I did. Especially when I now live in a state where "union" is a four-letter word to a lot of people.
Labor relations always fascinated me. And as far back as junior high I remember our talks about such issues. When most kids would probably be discussing things like weekend plans with friends, school, sports – and we did – you and I would have other discussions. Ones in which we discussed things like benefit and salary packages, right to work states, the significance of the Davis Bacon Act, and about prevailing wages.
I think what intrigued me was that the unions were put in place to help people. To fight for those who couldn't – or were too afraid – to fight for themselves. They were there to fight for safe and suitable working conditions. For benefits such as a decent living wage, health insurance, vacation and sick time off. To protect the working man or woman from employers who seem to confuse the term "employee" with "indentured servant." I think this always resonated with me because I was always something of an underdog myself. And Lord knows I was never one to keep my mouth shut when I saw anyone being bullied or mistreated!
I watched over the years how the benefits negotiated in your contracts by the union helped our family. You earned a wage that kept a roof over our heads and food on our table. You had stellar health insurance that allowed mom to get the medical care we needed without going broke and losing everything we had, like I had seen happen to a close friend's family. You now have a pension after all those years of working that allows you to remain in the house you built....so when I come home I can still sleep in the same room that had been mine for the majority of my life.
When it came to be my time to fight for unionization when I worked at the county, it was you I turned to for support and advice. When I was threatened with loss of job duties (which...PS...is illegal) for continuing, you backed me up every step of the way. When I had to testify before the labor relations board, you sat with me that long night beforehand, encouraging me and telling me I could do this and how proud you were. And the day I got the call that we had won our case, you were the first call I made to share the news. The day I became a union rep when I worked for the state was a day I think both of us will always remember with joy and pride.
You taught me that unions were there to protect the workers but that this did not give you the right to be lazy. That being a member of the rank and file did not mean you should just coast along because of a guaranteed COLA that unions should be there to protect but not cover up incompetence...not allow tenure or seniority to stop the firing of someone inept who couldn't perform job duties. I was taught that you appreciate the benefits and protection afforded to you and, as such, to bust your butt every day to show yourself worthy of these. To do the best you can every day and have a sense of pride in your work. And I still do that today, even when I want to just say the hell with it because I feel like an unappreciated bean counter some days.
You showed me the importance of seniority in layoff situations. That your time and dedication to a company should be – and, with union protection, is – worth something during downsizing or slow production times. Of a right way and a wrong way to treat employees when you have to lay them off. I saw how upset you would get when you would have to give a layoff notice. And I remember the times you took a voluntary layoff so younger men with families could continue working at full pay. This is why, when I see layoffs handled in the manner I have recently, it just makes my blood boil. I always looked at you as a man of honor. The men of today are not men and they have no honor and they could never compare to you.
I wish I could have been there today but am glad I have video and pictures of the event. Before I end this, I just want to say that as children we often hear our parents tell us they are proud of us. But I think we need to tell our parents sometimes too....more than we do. I am proud of the example you set for me, of the work ethic you taught me, of the sacrifices you made for your family and friends, and for the time you took to make sure I realized the importance of fair labor standards. I am proud to be your daughter. And I am so very proud of you......always have been, always will be.
Love you to the moon and back, Papa