I grew up in a union home. Nearly all my friends did as well. My parents were able to send all nine of us kids to a Catholic school. The same elementary and high schools for all nine of us. My mother did not work outside our home until my dad broke his back (helping a coworker and union member) and was laid up for over six months, when I was in the sixth grade. All nine of us were expected to pay at least part of our high school tuition. The girls paid their tuition with babysitting money and the boys mostly had paper routes. My freshman year at Regis my tuition was $175 and my mom slipped me $50 that she had saved. I was never sure if she did that for my other siblings because she said never tell anyone. Sorry Mom.

  We had full medical coverage. My dad also had a pension plan that included my mother even if my dad were to die before he could retire. My dad retired from U.S. Rubber which was eventually  called Uniroyal, when he was 62, after 38 years in maintenance as a welder. 

We had two family vacations as I grew up. We went once when I was about 10. We went to see my sister and her family in Bismark, North Dakota. On another vacation we went on a visit to Tete des Morts or St. Donatus, Iowa. This was where my Luxembourg great grandfather settled. We never camped before, but when Mom, Dad, us five kids plus my baby brother got into the pop up trailer on one overnight, we thought we were living the high life. By the way, the trailer was one of dad's union buddies that we went to church with. He worked at U.S. Rubber too. He lived two blocks from us and he also was our State Assembly Representative in Madison. 

Mother had passed when Dad was 65. We were all grateful when mom had her first plane ride to Norfolk Virginia to see her grand daughter just a few years before she passed. Air travel was an expense considered foolish by my parents. 

My dad lived on his pension for 26 years. When he passed he gave some of his estate to the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The remaining part he split evenly between his 9 surviving children. I wrote those checks as I was his Power of Attorney. Let me assure you those individual checks were not very much and I feel disclosure infringes on my agreement with my father never to discuss what his net worth with anyone, especially his children. I think he was ashamed of his wealth. My father’s assets at death were a little more than a two bedroom home in Thorp, WI and a “rainy day” Certificate of Deposit that he never touched in his 26 years of retirement for about $20,000. 

I didn’t think as a kid, or do I think now, that we were rich,but perhaps by many standards we were. I only know that nearly everyone in my neighborhood either had a parent that worked in a union or worked in a retail place or business where all the union people spent nearly all their money. My father never bought any stock other than stock in the Consumers Co-op of Eau Claire, WI. Now famously known as Mega (Grocery's and Gas) a local grocery and gas retailer. 

I guess all those things that he went on strike for are things of the past. Now CEO's (Goldman Sacks) that bankrupt our economy get $13M on the day my Governor announced a union busting bill that abolishes collective bargaining for nearly all factions of public employees. Governor Walker gave a timeline of 5 days for me and others to review and announced there will be no compromises.

I think the now famous "Wisconsin 14", the Democratic Senators of our current Wisconsin Senate body,  may have had a similar childhood as I had. Because I believe as I do the "Wisconsin 14" believe, we should be striving to give people the opportunity that my dad and mom had. We should not be trying to take that opportunity away from anyone. Union jobs were often the most sought by people since unions began. 

Last spring, I attended a funeral for one of dad's best friends. In his eulogy, his son Jack told the story of how his dad went to U.S. Rubber every day to see if there was an opening and after 2 years of doing this, he got hired where his best friend, my dad, worked, U.S. Rubber.

A friend recently sent me this message and he inspired me to write this note to share with you. He said, "When I was growing up wage earners with union jobs were able to send their children to Catholic schools and go on vacations in the mountains. They were given health care and decent pensions. The 30-year assault on unions has ended much of this. Today's fight should not be about taking benefits away from the few remaining persons with them but rather about helping those who have lost these benefits to regain them."

My sentiments exactly.


Steve Wagener

Made by Union Labor



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