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OP-ED: What I’m thankful for this season

NNPA NEWSWIRE — I want to give thanks for a human right that shaped our country throughout the 20th century and that made Thanksgiving possible for so many Americans who, like me, didn’t get here by way of the Mayflower. A human right that gives millions the time, the security, the good health and the ability to share this holiday with the people they love. Make that a globally recognized fundamental human right, and one written into our constitution that is known as Collective Bargaining.

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(Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
(Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Ray Curry, Secretary-Treasurer, UAW

Thanksgiving is here. Pass the turkey, slow down on the stuffing, put the kids, nieces and nephews at another table so the adults can talk, leave room for the pumpkin pie and leave even more room for, as the word suggests, giving thanks.

So that’s what I want to do here. I want to give thanks for a human right that shaped our country throughout the 20th century and that made Thanksgiving possible for so many Americans who, like me, didn’t get here by way of the Mayflower. A human right that gives millions the time, the security, the good health and the ability to share this holiday with the people they love. Make that a globally recognized fundamental human right, and one written into our constitution that is known as Collective Bargaining.

I know. Collective Bargaining doesn’t sound festive.

But believe me, Collective Bargaining is responsible for a whole lot of the festivities that we enjoy this holiday. Trade unions and the collective voice that they speak to management with, have brought about so much of what we now take for granted. The 40-hour work week, for example, was almost 70 hours until unions rolled their sleeves up and said life also calls for family and R and R time.

Likewise, organized labor, not management, introduced the idea of weekends, paid vacation, sick days and paid holidays such as aforementioned Turkey Day. Union bargainers negotiate what wages will be set at, how safe a workplace environment must be, the healthcare provided you, the retirement you can look forward to. Oh, and the children at the kid’s table? Unions pushed for the child labor laws that put them in chairs asking for second helpings instead of on a bench sewing shoes for countless hours a day.

What’s more, unions and those they bargain for are as diverse as America is. Because of Collective Bargaining, auntie’s mashed potatoes get passed down a long table. According to a recent report from the  Economic Policy Institute, an independent, nonprofit think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States, roughly 10.6 million of the 16.3 million workers covered by a union contract are women and/or people of color:

  • About two-thirds (65.4 %) of workers age 18 to 64 and covered by a union contract are women and/or people of color.
    • Almost half (46.3 %) are women.
    • More than a third (35.8 %) are black, Hispanic, Asian, or other non-white workers.
  • Black workers are the most likely to be represented by unions: 14.5 % of black workers age 18 to 64 are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, compared with 12.5 % of white workers and 10.1 % of Hispanic workers.

Union workers are increasingly better educated. More than half (54.5 %) of workers age 18 to 64 and covered by a union contract have an associate degree or more education.

  • Two out of five (42.4 %) have a bachelor’s degree or more education.

I am proud to say, at my Thanksgiving table the collective bargainers I am personally most thankful for are my brothers and sisters at the UAW.

As I write this during this bargaining season, we have ratified contract agreements with General Dynamics and Ford Motor Company, and took to the streets to get new contracts with Mack Truck and General Motors — sometimes justice and better working conditions means a picket line. I was so proud of my union family who stood strong on that line and showed Mack Truck and GM, once again, the power of our solidarity.  We saw a historic outpouring of public support as well for the sacrifices our brothers and sisters made on those picket lines in the cold, rain and heat. Our negotiated contracts protected wages, health care and retirement benefits and job security.

Our institution is steeped in the history of how America’s middle class was fought for and forged with roots going back to the Great Depression.

So, this is the perfect season to be thankful for unions across the land, for my UAW, and for the right of Collective Bargaining. Ours is a land of plenty — Unions work for all to share in its bounty.

Happy Thanksgiving.

President, UAW

Ray Curry was elected President of the UAW on June 28, 2021 by the International Executive Board upon the retirement of UAW President Rory L. Gamble. Curry officially assumed the office of president on July 1, 2021 and will serve out the remainder of the term until June 2022. Elected UAW Secretary-Treasurer at the 37th Constitutional Convention in June 2018, Curry was instrumental in implementation of broad financial ethics reforms and oversight as part of the UAW’s Ethics Reforms Initiative.

Curry was elected Director of UAW Region 8 in June 2014 at the 36th UAW Constitutional Convention in Detroit after having served four years as the region’s assistant director.

As Region 8 director, Curry was instrumental in securing new labor agreements with various parts suppliers. In July 2015, under his leadership, the region successfully organized the first gaming bargaining unit of Region 8 as part of a coalition of four other unions to represent the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Maryland. In October 2017, the combined coalition reached its first individual collective bargaining agreements. UAW Local 17 represents the table dealers. Under Curry’s leadership, the region also won an election for representation at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in June 2018, bringing 1,250 new members into the union.

A North Carolina native and military veteran, Curry served three years on active duty in the U.S. Army and five years in the U.S. Army Reserve.

He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration / Finance. He holds a Master of Business Administration, MBA, degree from the University of Alabama.

Curry joined the UAW in July 1992, when he was hired as a truck assembler at Freightliner Trucks in Mount Holly, North Carolina, (now Daimler Trucks, NA) and later became a quality assurance inspector. He remained in that position until 2004. He served on the local’s civil rights committee and as a delegate for the area A. Philip Randolph Chapter. From 1998 to 2004, UAW Local 5285 members elected him to serve in numerous leadership positions, including as UAW Constitutional Convention delegate, chairman of the trustees, financial secretary-treasurer and alternate committeeperson. He also served as chairman of the UAW North Carolina State Political Action Committee, executive board vice president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO and as a UAW member organizer on the 2003 and 2004 Freightliner organizing drives in Cleveland, Gastonia and High Point, North Carolina.

In October 2004, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger appointed him as an International representative assigned to Region 8. His assignment as a servicing representative included aerospace, automotive (Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors facilities), heavy truck, and numerous automotive supplier locations in Alabama and Tennessee. He was responsible for collective bargaining, arbitration, organizing, political action and other bargaining-unit assignments. In June 2010, he was appointed Region 8 assistant director by then–Region 8 Director Gary Casteel.

Curry was elected as a 2012 Democratic National Convention alternate delegate on behalf of the state of Tennessee and later became a full voting delegate at the convention.

He is the 2017 recipient of the A. Philip Randolph Leon Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award, 2017 recipient of the Tennessee State AFL-CIO Presidential Award, the 2018 PR Latta Rank and File Award from the North Carolina AFL-CIO, as well as the 2019 National Newspaper Press Association’s National Leadership Award.

A longtime grassroots activist, Curry is a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, a Silver Life member of the NAACP, and member of the national NAACP Board of Directors. He is also an active member of numerous community and social organizations including but not limited to the Michigan State Democratic Party, American Legion Post 177 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Unique Masonic Lodge #85, Charlotte Consistory #35, and Rameses Temple #51 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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