David Melman: On Labor Day, celebrate unions and baseball*

This Labor Day let’s celebrate two American traditions — unions and baseball

On Labor Day, all 30 MLB teams will take the field. That’s at least 750 players altogether and every one of them will be wearing a uniform sewn at Fanatics Majestic Athletic‘s facility in Palmer Township.

Professional baseball uniforms have been sewn by union members at the plant for three decades. And thanks to union members, this will continue.

Last December, MLB announced that Under Armour and Fanatics — not VF — will make the uniforms and replicas starting in 2020. The news sent shock waves through our community — potential job losses threatening 600 workers, their families and countless local businesses that depend on customers with money to spend.

As Jerilyn Smith, a Majestic employee, said: “We take pride in making baseball uniforms and pride in knowing that our union jobs allow us to pay our bills, have health insurance, paid vacation, and a pension.”

By sticking together in their union, workers at the plant built power to negotiate good wages and benefits — ensuring that these jobs were worth fighting for. So when the news hit, they sprang into action. They made a plan, spoke out, held a creative “cyber rally” and signed petitions.

They did not stand alone. The men who wear the uniforms on the field stood with them, through their own union, the Major League Baseball Players Association.

As Sam Patti, another Majestic employee, says, “We are proud of the players association’s backing. They supported our contract fights in the past, including our most recent one in 2016. Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA came to our shop and met with our members to hear their stories. It was great to hear that the players really cared about our fight to save our jobs.”

Then came victory. In April, just days before VF Majestic workers were set to march through Philadelphia to demand a commitment to keeping the jobs in Palmer, Fanatics and Under Armour announced they would.

The rest of America could learn a thing or two from this. Sticking together in unions is a tried and true way for working people to build power, sit down with managers as equals, and negotiate for higher wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers receive better wages, benefits and working conditions than non-union workers.

Our parents and grandparents knew this. But unions — and wages — have been driven down, resulting in vast income inequality. That’s why today, in cities throughout the country, Service Employees International Union members and working people in the Fight for $15 will join in with community leaders and allies to confront the politicians and corporations that have rigged the system against workers and demand the freedom to form unions.

Like baseball, unions are an American tradition, a tradition that must be celebrated — and revived.

David Melman is manager of the Pennsylvania Joint Board of Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

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