Union dues pins: Time for a comeback

By Brad Sigal

Last month, AFSCME 3800 gave out union pins and mugs to our members. We encourage you to wear your pin at work! It may feel small but it’s an important display of our collective presence in the workplace.
We didn’t make this idea up -   union pins have a long history. If  you Google “    union dues pin” you’ll find lots of colorful old pins. Before labor laws recognized union rights in the 1930s, employers rarely recognized unions as legitimate. Unions were on their own. Leaders had to go to each member every month and collect their union dues. When workers paid their dues, they’d get their pin to proudly show they were paid up. The number of members wearing the pins showed the boss how strong the union was.

In the 1930s, with the Great Depression and a strike wave shutting down key industries to demand basic workers’ rights, the government was pressured to pass laws that forced employers to recognize and negotiate with unions. Thus started the widespread practice of “dues check off” - employers deducting union dues out of workers’ paychecks and giving that money to the union. This was an important union victory, giving unions financial stability and considerably less work to collect members’ dues each month.

With these changes union dues pins became a thing of the past, but something more than a pin was lost.

The simple act of union reps talking to each member monthly kept union leaders in touch with the daily concerns of rank and file workers.

Employers and the government never wanted to recognize unions; they only did when the economy was in danger of collapse and workers were striking and making it impossible to continue business as usual. So ever since the gains made in the 1930s, union rights have been chipped away bit by bit by legislation and court rulings. From the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act to this summer’s Supreme Court ruling Janus v. AFSCME, the gains won by unions and workers in the 1930s have kept decreasing.

With today’s anti-union President and Congress and an increasingly anti-union Supreme Court poised to make more anti-union rulings, union survival and advance means getting back to basics. Our union is only as strong as each one of us makes it. Our power is based in our presence and solidarity in the workplace.

Even as the government tries to take us back to the days when unions and workers rights were not recognized, our member pin recalls the courage and solidarity workers showed when they organized unions without laws to protect them. It reminds us that our power comes from having conversations with each other about our conditions at work, in our neighborhoods, and in our country, then joining together to fight for something better.

A union pin might be small, but it represents a long history of workers like us who stood up against all odds to improve working people’s lives. We hope you’ll wear your AFSCME 3800 member pin at work as a badge of pride and a display of solidarity!

If you haven’t gotten your pin or solidarity mug yet, email afscme3800@gmail.com.