By now all of our union’s members, in all of the many industries we serve, should have received copies of their union contracts in the mail. Please contact your union representative if you haven’t obtained your copy.

Whether you’ve worked at your company a few months or a few years, it’s a good idea to read this important document from front to back.

Your contract specifies the wages you earn, the health care you receive and other benefits of union membership, including pension, vacations, holiday and overtime pay, work guarantees, life insurance, sick leave and rights on the job.

Our union’s negotiators work hard to reach the best possible agreements with our employers. These agreements are then submitted to our members for their approval and ratification. The end result is a better quality of life for you and your family.

Other workers can only dream of the wages, benefits and protections that are guaranteed by your contract. Their value is, in a word, “priceless.”

Our union negotiates the contract and our union representatives enforce its terms on your behalf, but they can’t do it all alone. We need your help to identify when violations occur. This requires your knowledge of the contract’s terms. How else would you know if you’re being treated unfairly?

We take violations of the contract seriously. And when they happen, we stand by our members to ensure their rights are protected through the grievance process.

Through this process we have been able to protect the jobs of countless members and, in many cases, we have helped them receive back pay that they otherwise would have lost.

Leading the way

While unions represent about 20 percent of America’s workers, we set the standards for wages and benefits for the other 80 percent.

Unions are responsible for basic workplace guarantees that are enjoyed by almost all workers. These include the 40-hour working week, the minimum wage, laws prohibiting child slave labor and rules protecting women and others from abuse and discrimination in the workplace.

All of these good things and more were first negotiated by unions or attained through the lobbying efforts of unions on behalf of all people who work for a living.

Still, there always will be a powerful advantage in being a union member. For example, UPS recently froze its pension plans for non-union employees while workers who have a union weren’t affected.

Unions are all about applying the collective strength of working people to protect and improve the standards of their jobs and their lives. Our success relies on the willingness of our members to do their part.

We can begin by reading our union contract, understanding what it says, and taking action when necessary to enforce its terms.