THE ESSAY BELOW was submitted by Helen Pendergraft, daughter of Norman Pendergraft of Local 114 (the City of Bellingham) as part of her application for a Council 2 scholarship.
She was selected to receive Council 2’s 2012 four-year Scholarship Award ($5,000 per year for four years).
While in high school she joined the picket line when her schools’ teachers went on strike. In addition, as a reporter for her school magazine she wrote her first article on the teachers’ strike, so that she could help dispel some of the mixed messages being spread.
Click here for a full list of scholarship winners.
What unions mean to my family
By Helen Pendergraft
Unions are vitally important; whether you are looking at this nation’s history or its present day struggles.
Because both my mother and my father are heavily involved in their respective unions, I have been brought up with the values presented in the ideals of workers’ rights. Taking advanced U.S. history courses in high school and hearing the stories of my family’s own history, I have seen the battles of historical activists who helped build fair and equal workplace conditions reflected in the present political and economic atmosphere my parents have to live and work in.
My mother has been the co-president of her union for the last five years. Even before then she was the vice president and the union representative for fifteen years as she was raising children. She often talks to me about the problems she faces. I have seen her fight for competent pay and changes in contract language that would benefit all members of her union. She has fought valiantly and has never given up. She tells me her inspiration is her own parents and grandparents, who never gave up either. She tells me stories passed down from her father about her grandfather who worked in the steel factories in Detroit before steel workers were unionized; they had to deal with subhuman conditions, starving wages, overly demanding work hours and the constant threat of unwarranted layoff. This torch was passed to my mother, and she has passed it again to me. My mother and I are Daughters of the American Revolution.
For our family, having lived in America for generations, it is a source of pride to know that my ancestors were among the workforce who built the country we recognize today as the U.S.
Likewise, my father is an active member of afscme. He dutifully knows his contract, his job description and the role of the union. My father’s lineage helped shape the workforce of this nation as well.
Unions help ensure the rights laid down in the Constitution; an ironic thing since rights should theoretically not need to be fought for; that’s why they are called rights. The fact that people still have to fight for workers’ rights is frustrating, but also inspiring as even though we are nowhere near an ideal world for workers, at the very least the fight within my family is burning as brightly as ever.