Executive Director Reports

What I learned at the dining room table

Unions help set the standards for education, skill levels, wages, working conditions and quality of life.

 Roberta Lynch

Roberta Lynch

Anthony Ruhulessin, the son of AFSCME Local 3477 member Jeannie Bellina, has been awarded a 2018 Family Scholarship by AFSCME International because of his excellent academic and extracurricular record at Guerin College Preparatory High School. I was so impressed with his grasp of the critical importance of unions—and the challenges we face—that I am ceding my column to his application essay. Well done, Anthony, and best of luck.

“My mother, Jeannie Bellina, works as a Juvenile Probation Officer and is a proud member of AFSCME Local 3477, which is the local representing Juvenile Probation Officers employed by the Cook County Circuit Court.

“As the son of a union advocate I had the opportunity to participate in protests over fair contracts, violation of contract terms and threats of job losses. I remember sitting at the dining room table having conversations about the importance of unions and what they mean for working families like ours.

“Unions help set the standards for education, skill levels, wages, working conditions, and quality of life for workers. Being part of a union membership meant our family didn’t have to struggle to make ends meet with a low wage, no-benefit job. It meant a single mother could be confident that I would have more opportunities than she had.

“I remember when I was 14 years old; I had a big health scare. The doctors thought I developed heart problems because of an abnormal EKG. Thank God, after seeing many specialists I’m okay. One of the common themes my mother was grateful for was having a job with good health care. Because of my mom’s good union job, not only did my family have enough for the necessities such as affordable health insurance, we had enough for extras, too. We were able to take road trips to different parts of the country and visit our family in Puerto Rico. As a single mom she was able to provide me with a good quality of life, health insurance, paid bills, and contribute to her pension.

“I believe being part of a union gives my mother a sense of peace. She knows that she is part of something that will fight against threats of layoffs or job eliminations and losing what most of us would think are basic life necessities—a home, food, transportation and the ability to support children.

“My mom has consistently reinforced the value of these experiences and the importance of being the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. To ensure that the rights of all people are never devalued, the responsibility to serve and give back is as embedded in me as is my name. This is a blessing because union families like mine are becoming less common. The right to bargain collectively is under attack. As bargaining is weakened, working families like the one I’ve grown up in are losing their hold on the American Dream. Unions only work through solidarity; it gives them a powerful voice in America.

“My mother’s job as a probation officer is not promising her that she’ll be rich one day. She certainly does not mingle with CEOs and I don’t think she ever attended an elite black-tie affair. But every day she works to provide services to children on probation, and keep our community safe with her head held high. She helps some of the most vulnerable families get help with mental health, school, drug treatment, and leading crime-free lifestyles. Throughout my life, I had the opportunity to hear her talk with her young clients. She made sure she greeted every client with a smile and with the kindness of her heart. She always took the time to understand them, so she could help them.

“My mom is proud of her job as much as she is her union. She knows how important her work is in a city that’s full of violence. Her union has helped her realize the impact that she makes on young lives. She also knows that because she has a union, she has a seat at the bargaining table with her employer. She felt safe doing her job because the union created good working conditions.

“Joining the union at my part-time job at Mariano’s has made my mother proud. The value of standing with your co-workers to demand respect and fair treatment is something I plan to pass on.

“Although I don’t know if I will end up in a unionized job, these experiences have taught me how to be a better person, to be compassionate, and fight for what I believe in.

“As my mother would say: Speak up, because it is the right thing to do.”