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Why Unions Matter: Helping Families Through Times of Need

September 22, 2015 Updated: September 8, 2020

Richard with his mom and dad
Richard with his mom and dad

A year and a half ago, when Richard Kern was 18, he was diagnosed with malignant Melanoma.

While going through treatment, his medical bills soared to exceed $100,000. Thankfully, Richard’s mom is a member of UFCW Local 1059. Because of the collective bargaining agreement UFCW Local 1059 fought for at Kroger where Mrs. Kern works, her health insurance covered a vast majority of Richard’s overwhelming medical costs.

“My bill was in the triple digits instead of the sextuple digits,” said Richard. “Without her union, I would not be going to college. We would have sold at least one of our cars. I’d be working a full-time job or two part-time jobs. And we likely would have had to cash in retirement funds and all the life insurance policies we have. We would have had to give up nearly everything just to pay for a surgery to keep me alive. If it wasn’t for my mother’s union, my family would have been finished.”

Richard can now say he is a cancer survivor. But tragedy very recently struck his family again, when his father had a stroke. Richard’s father was airlifted from his local hospital in Lacaster, Ohio, to the facilities at Ohio State University where doctors fought to keep him from having another stroke.

“Again, the UFCW came to the rescue,” says Richard. “We haven’t yet gotten all the medical bills but the life flight alone was thousands upon thousands. He had two procedures done, saw neurologists, vascular surgeons, cardiologists, and neuro vascular surgeons, along with spending five days in arguably the best hospital in Ohio. The bills will be astronomical. But again, without my mom’s health insurance that the UFCW bargained for at the table, we would have had to pay for it all out of pocket. Which, to be blunt, never would have happened. We would have never been able to pay it all off. Ever.”

“Ever since my battle against cancer”, said Richard, “I’ve been on a mission. And after my dad’s medical troubles, the fire in my heart was set all over again. My goal is to make a speech at the Democratic National Convention. I want to send the message that without unions, the middle class is beyond screwed. I want to send the message that every single person in this country deserves a living wage, not the minimum wage. And I want to send a message that everyone is entitled to quality health insurance. I am living, breathing proof that unions save lives, as is my father.”

Richard says that by fighting for workers’ rights, the union “literally kept me and my dad alive.” Help Richard spread his message, by posting on social media, shopping union-made, or simply telling a worker in your local grocery store or in your favorite retail shop thank you for their service.

Together, unions and the millions of hard-working Americans they represent will continue fighting for workers’ rights and improving the quality of life for the middle class.