Justice and Accountability

Labor union support and membership can be a way to practice your faith.

Justice and Accountability
Hundreds of United Methodist Women members join other groups to call for a fair living wage during Assembly 2018 in Columbus, Ohio.

I have always had something stirring inside that prompts me to act for fairness and accountability. I haven’t always answered the prompting, but it’s been there. As I’ve matured in the Lord, I know that it was God through the Holy Spirit speaking to me, showing me the way and pointing out needs to be met.

This drive started early in life. When punished in fifth grade, I met with teachers after so I could give and get an explanation. I participated in student council in high school. I served in management for my agency in New Jersey right before and after 9/11. However, I believe I made the greatest positive impact on the largest number of people when I became a member and officer in the National Association of Agriculture Employees.

The NAAE is a small union that represents employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Protection Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine. I served in several positions, including local president, national treasurer, national first vice president, acting national president and national chief negotiator.

As a local representative, I worked with management on solutions such as scheduling procedures, designing office and work areas and negotiating local contracts. As a national officer, I visited worksites across the United States and met employees and managers and learned of their needs.

Some major accomplishments include creating higher-paid positions, establishing the team concept in the Port of Miami, being a member of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Managing Diversity Committee and USDA Partnership Council, helping develop a performance management system, helping shape the mission and vision of the organization through participation in the Future Search Conferences, and working on projects at our borders with U.S. Customs and Immigration.

All of this work involved listening, understanding and compromise. It meant innovating and being a source of support. It meant standing up for workers.

God’s work

I have been a member of United Methodist Women since I first joined The United Methodist Church. My United Methodist faith means supporting justice and dignity for workers, based on our Social Principles. Being part of a union helps me live out my faith.

I have on occasion mentioned my union participation at church. Even though I attend a United Methodist church, a denomination with a long history of supporting unions, I rarely get questions—or feel support. It’s hard to ignore the false rhetoric that unions are corrupt bullies that hurt companies, but the truth is unions help workers, companies, communities and the economy. According to the Center for American Progress, unionization increases income—not just for union members but for the entire middle class. Increased wages in the middle class increases wages for the working class as well. Unions strengthen businesses by giving workers a voice. Improved workplace conditions lead to other beneficial policies, such as strong public education. And though you’ll hear otherwise, no one, anywhere, can be forced to join a union. The Economic Policy Institute reports that unions increase productivity and do not reduce competitiveness. It also found that unions increase diversity in the workplace as well. It’s common sense that well-treated, fairly paid employees with time off and benefits make for the best workplace and society.

As a proud union member and supporter, I encourage you to join and support unions. Membership in a union means not just holding management accountable but also union leadership. Be involved. Voice your concerns. Take on leadership roles and focus on what’s right for employees and employers. Your participation is vitally important to ensure that we as agents of transformation are active in making our workplaces free of barriers to women’s progress and that we are making our workplaces stronger, more productive, more inclusive and collaborative among all employees and management.

Union membership is one of the greatest opportunities to make workplaces better for everyone, from first-line employees to the heads of management. I have seen my participation in the union as being the hands and feet of God. Jesus confronted and debated with religious leaders about issues that impacted common men and women. He also went where many religious leaders would not go—to where he was needed, to those considered the least, to those with the greatest needs. As a union member or representative, you represent people in need.

I am proud to be a member of United Methodist Women. We do not sit on our hands, but step forward in faith, giving hope and love through our actions. Even when I thought I might be tarred and feathered, I stood up for actions taken by the union because they were the right thing to do. I held open, robust discussions with union members to make sure my voice and their voices were heard.

As women of faith we must stand up for what is right in our homes, churches, communities and workplaces. It is more important than ever to stand up and resist actions that will take away the rights we have fought so hard to obtain, like the right to work and compete, equal pay for equal work, proper care and education for all children, alternative work schedules and alternative workplaces. These are just a few examples that unions and management have worked collaboratively to obtain. We cannot let our guard down. We must be agents of transformation.

Mary Negron is a member of United Methodist Women at Memorial United Methodist Church in Fernandina Beach, Florida. She retired after 31 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and now volunteers with the church and other organizations that help those in need.

Posted or updated: 10/8/2018 12:00:00 AM