Stereotypes are a part of history and sadly are alive today. Growing up I heard stereotypes about people based race, their sex, their national origin, their religion and the like. As a baby boomer growing up in the 60’s I was a part of generation of change that saw the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the fight against the Vietnam War.
A product of the greatest generation, I spent some of my youth with my grandparents due to my parents’ marital problems. I always remember what my grandfather who came to San Francisco on a cattle boat at the turn of the 20th century told me. “Every person,” he said should be treated with respect and dignity. You cannot generalize people. There are good and bad people period, not because of any label, but because of the way they themselves act.”
He taught me about unions and dignity at work and he used his buttons for his union the Retail Clerks International to help me understand the months of the year. He would hand me a button and say “Howard, it is now January and I am wearing my January button. Last month was December you can wear that button.”
I remembered his teachings and went on to college. When the Vietnam War occurred and I was being drafted, I joined the Navy because I wanted to ensure my citizenship and be able to vote—my grandfather throughout most of his life, being the first person in line at his polling place. In addition, when I got out of the military, I found my reception different from the people of today. Somehow, I committed a crime or something and all I did was simply type, make coffee and deliver messages as a Yeoman. Nothing heroic, just serving my enlistment. However, nobody would hire me except for the federal government.
When I was hired, I joined my union the American Federation of Government Employees and was proud to wear my union button. I was proud to follow my grandfather and proud that my union was in the house of labor with other workers all of whom worked for the same thing dignity and respect for every worker.
So now I find myself in an environment where stereotypes exist again, it is spectator sport to trash public workers and union leaders or as some people call them “union bosses” and people claim that all of us are overpaid and all we want is a pension.”
I think back to a visit I made to some sister and brother employees in Oklahoma City in 1995 following the first act of domestic terrorism in the United States, the bombing of a building where federal workers toiled. Nobody asked who was union, who was management, what race, national origin, sex, religion, sexual orientation a person had. They were feds that was enough.
The time has come to get away from such stereotypes, to follow the lessons my grandfather taught me so many years ago. Every person deserves the right to have dignity and respect and the right to have a good life. Public workers and public union members are no better or worse than anyone else is.
We pay our taxes. We go to your schools. We help in community events. We worship in churches and synagogues with you. We do exactly the same things that found me passing my pre-induction physical at the then Oakland Induction Center, which is now the site of the state Harris Building, inhale and exhale.
To paraphrase the words of one Delaware Senate candidate who had perhaps the most unusual political commercial of all time, each of us while of course not witches is one of you.
AFGE Local 3172 Vice President
Social Security Administration, California