Vinny Alvarez, right, President of the NYC Central Labor Council and a leader of Climate Jobs NY, AFL-CIO, and Gary LaBarbera, President of NYC and NYS Building Trades councils, and a leader of Climate Jobs NY, listen as Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, center, speaks during a roundtable discussion at the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in New York. Credit: Mary Altaffer / AP

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Amy Roeder of Bangor represents District 125 in the Maine House of Representatives.

As a member of three labor unions — two private and one public — I’m proud of what the labor movement has accomplished. I’m proud that my union and all other organized labor unions are helping to close the gender and racial pay gaps. I’m proud that labor unions were partly responsible for passing the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. I’m proud of all the accomplishments of labor unions past and present that have helped lift the American worker. 

I come by my love of organized labor honestly; after all, my parents were both union members. Once when I was very young, I remember going out to eat at a local truck stop with Mom and Dad when a woman walked by our booth. My mom smiled and said hello in a tone I didn’t recognize. It was almost reverent, honestly. After the woman passed by, I asked Mom who she was. “She was one of the Willmar Eight, Amy.” I asked what was so important about the Willmar Eight and my mom said “Everything.” The Willmar Eight were all female coworkers who went on strike to protest unequal pay and unequal opportunities for advancement for women at the Citizens National Bank in Willmar, Minnesota.  

Doris, Irene, Sylvia, Jane, Sandi, Teren, Shirley and Glennis set up their picket line outside in the dead of winter with the wind chill approaching 70 below zero. The National Labor Relations Board found in their favor, but declared the strike to be “economic,” which meant that they would receive no back pay and that there was no guarantee that they would recover their jobs. Regardless, they struck a blow against unfairness, and it reverberated in our community for decades. The Willmar Eight were some of my first heroes, along with Wonder Woman and Mr. Rogers. 

I grew up in a house bought and paid for with union wages. I watched my parents enjoy a happy retirement because of their union pensions. I even went to church in a faith tradition that celebrated the working class. In fact, in 1991, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America passed a resolution that states, in part, the ELCA “commits itself to advocacy with corporations, businesses, congregations and church-related institutions to protect the rights of workers, support the collective bargaining process and protect the right to strike.”

I had ample reasons every day to believe in the power of solidarity over selfishness and unity in the face of greed.

We are on the cusp of a bright new era in organized labor and that’s why I support the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, federal legislation currently before the U.S. Senate. If passed, the PRO Act would, in part, hold corporations accountable by allowing the National Labor Relations Board to penalize employers who retaliate against workers trying to form unions, repeal divisive and racist right to work laws that are designed to weaken and undermine unions, and remove barriers to organizing and bargaining.

When unions do better, all workers do better. The time is right for the PRO Act and I call on our senators to cast their vote for all working Mainers.