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The power of team

7/30/2015
By Matthew Kleinhans, student and 2015 IFT Robert Porter Scholarship winner

Although Matthew Kleinhans will enter the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana this fall as a freshman, it’s pretty clear that he’s already got some important things figured out. The recent graduate of York High School in Elmhurst and son of IFT Local 571 member Laura Kleinhans was recently awarded the IFT Robert Porter Scholarship, in part based on this extraordinary essay. It’s a must-read and a great reminder about the importance of American labor unions to us all. Congratulations, Matthew!

 
All my life I, and many other students in public schools, have been directed towards group work and the importance of cooperation. At school, as well as in my athletic career, I have seen that there is an unmatched power in working together to achieve a goal not attainable through individual effort.
 
Through my ever-present Calculus problem-of-the week meetings, to the chemistry developed on and off the field with my teammates, it is clear that our most substantial accomplishments can and will be made when we work together to achieve common goals. This "power of team" concept may be the most significant role of unions in America. Unions ensure that their members have opportunities to send their children to college, to provide families with healthcare, and the ability to survive the uncertain retirement years.
 
Unions insert an element of fairness into our capitalistic economic system. A disturbing wealth gap exists that is illustrated by the substantial divide between incomes by the top earners as compared to the compensation of America's workers. The decline of private sector unions that occurred in the 1970s was paralleled by this massive growth in top-earner income. This gap still exists. Our system of government must benefit ALL to work. Instability and lack of confidence in team or the system occurs when participants feel that they do not have a "fair shot."
 
Unions set fair wages and benefits that produce opportunity for workers and their families. I have personally seen this. Both my parents work in the educational system, and my two brothers and I have healthcare when we are sick, and the ability to go to college because of actions supported by past union members. The result has been positive for both our family and America. My two older brothers are both engineers and are building a future for themselves and the nation, thanks to union support.
 
Unions also ensure that America's workers are safe and secure. This security is not just from industrial and manufacturing accidents, but from discrimination in the workplace. At school, in our economics and history classes, we are exposed to numerous examples and historical cases of individuals persecuted because they did not have a supporting organization to provide for their safety. Unions create a voice for those that do not have one, and a process to ensure individual rights are not trampled. Without unions, individuals are subject to arbitrary discipline processes and discrimination based on age, gender, race, and other attributes that do not affect a worker's ability to contribute.
 
Simply put, unions mobilize members to positive group action, give security and support to workers' families, and provide a voice of fairness for those who cannot be heard.

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