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Why Unions Matter: Fighting to Protect Our Jobs

August 26, 2015 Updated: September 8, 2020

Sylvia, in black vest

Sylvia Hovington knows first-hand just how important unions are.

Sylvia is a member of UFCW Local 1776 and works for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). The Local represents 3,500 members working retail at PA Wine and Spirits Stores and in the warehouses that deliver to licensees such as bars, restaurants, and sporting facilities.

Coming from a “labor family”, Silvia started working for the PLCB in her twenties, seeking a job that that would support its employees and had advancement opportunities.  “Make sure you join the union!” Silvia’s aunt told her. And of course she did; she’s now been a member for 28 years. Sylvia’s daughter is also carrying on the family tradition–her UFCW job enables her to work for the PLCB as she finishes up college.

But in 2013, the job Sylvia loves and the security it provided for her family came under threat. For years, Republicans in the state House of Representatives have been trying to privatize the sale of liquor in their state, meaning 3,500 good union jobs would be lost and sent to retailers like Walmart, which pay low wages and treat their workers poorly, Sylvia notes. In 2013, Republican governor Tom Corbett, who claimed he would stop at nothing to pass a privatization bill, helped push a bill through the state House.

For the first time in her career Syliva was scared for her job. “How was I going to feed my family?” she thought. Her husband also had a good job but they needed more than one salary to pay their mortgage, car payments, her daughter’s tuition, and support the rest of her family. “It’s a very scary thing when your livelihood is about to be snatched away from you. It doesn’t just affect the worker but their whole family.”

But Sylvia and her fellow Local 1776 members “were not going down without a fight.”

As a shop steward, Sylvia was used to keeping her fellow members updated and educating young members about what being part of a union family means. Now, she would be doing that across the state.

In order to stop the privatization bill from passing in the state Senate Local 1776 and members like Sylvia went into overdrive to save their jobs. They held lobby days in Harrisburg, went from store to store talking to Wine and Spirits workers, and sent letters to their representatives telling them not to support this bill that would hurt the families of over 3,500 workers and be bad for the state budget.

After months of mobilizing workers and spreading their message, receiving support from other UFCW Locals and the International as well as other labor unions, Sylvia and fellow union members have come out victorious. This year, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf vetoed the privatization legislation.

“The reason why we still have our jobs is because we belong to a union,” says Sylvia. “Unions keep the jobs flowing.”

She wants the Republicans who have been trying to pass the privatization bill in her state and who have claimed that unions are unnecessary to know a few things.

“The UFCW has helped me so much. My Local offers daycare reimbursement that helped me work when my daughters were young. They make sure you get dental and medical. They make sure we are payed a good living wage. Without them, I might not have been able to take my maternity leave.”

Without the protection and support of a union, says Sylvia, workers are not guaranteed these things. And that is why she is thankful this Labor Day, that unions exist.

The fight for PLCB workers isn’t over since they could face similar legislation again. But they know that whatever happens in the future, the union has their back.