My experience as a teenage union member

Story by Ben Fyke, Staff Writer/Editor/Social Media Manager

When I applied to work at Stop & Shop at the end of my sophomore year, I was a typical 16-year-old looking for a way to make money. It was one of many jobs I applied for, and the only one that called me back; I was hired. When I went into work on my first day, I was informed that I would become a member of a labor union. At the time, I didn’t think much of it as the probability of participating in a labor demonstration was low at the time.

One year later, though, I joined my union brothers and sisters by going on strike. We were protesting various proposals by Stop & Shop in the new union contract, including the elimination of time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and cuts to health care coverage. After 11 days of striking, Stop & Shop reached an agreement with union negotiators to preserve all the benefits they were trying to cut back or get rid of, and we returned to work as usual. 

This experience gave me firsthand knowledge of the effectiveness of striking as a collective bargaining tool and its importance in protecting employee rights. It’s one thing to learn this process in a textbook during history class, and another thing to be a part of a real labor strike. By going through this experience, I gained a real appreciation for unions and saw how they effected change.

As I approach two years of being in a labor union, I have yet again seen the importance of belonging to such an organization. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery store employees are working increased hours and are also at increased risk of contracting the illness. Such employees are also designated “essential workers,” so they must continue to interact with the public on a daily basis. To compensate for this, our union secured a temporary 10% wage increase for all workers and guaranteed two weeks of sick leave. This is more than non-unionized employers like Walmart have done for their workers.

I am grateful for being able to belong to a union, and especially at such a young age. I have seen myself how important they are to protecting workers, which is a unique perspective to have as an 18-year-old. I think more young people should have union jobs, as it is an important lesson to learn so early in one’s life.