This feature appeared in the Summer edition of the OCSEA magazine, the Public Employee Quarterly.
Millennials often have mountains of school debt and few job prospects that pay a decent wage and offer affordable benefits once they hit the job market. That’s why many are turning to unionized jobs like those in state and local government.
While younger workers used to be less likely to be in a union than any other group, that trend has changed in recent years, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The number of union jobs in general is dropping for older employees ages 45 to 54, but for millennials, those numbers are on the rise—big time.
That’s bringing some good news for union membership overall, too. In 2017, union membership climbed by 262,000 members, and millennials were a large part of that equation. In fact, 76 percent of the increase in union membership in 2017 was workers under the age of 35.
From campaigns organizing Silicon Valley to digital newsrooms to graduate students, millennials are pushing back on the stereotype that they are adrift, not engaged and want nothing to do with unions.
Not only is the pay better for these young union workers—they earn roughly a fifth more than those in non-union jobs—but health care is better and less expensive, and unions help guarantee quality leave time, an important benefit for young workers starting families.
So it’s no surprise that millennials are entering the unionized state workforce at a higher rate than at any time in history.
Brian Miller, a seasoned Correction Officer and union chapter president at Marion Correctional Institution (MCI), is capitalizing on this growing trend by helping to “bring up” a whole new group of young, unionized activists in his chapter. The group of Next Wavers, all 30 years old or younger, worked at the private prison, North Central Correctional Facility, before coming over to the state-run prison in Marion.
They say there’s no comparison between their union job as Correction Officers at MCI and the time they spent at the private prison in Marion. The major differences are easy: better wages, a schedule they can count on and health care they can afford. But as new employees, the subtler difference in a union shop means they feel that someone has their back and that they’re safer with a union than without.
Editors of this magazine sat down with a group of four young COs at MCI to talk about their experience. This is what they had to say about the difference between their union job and working in a private prison where there was no union to support them.
Dustin Smith, 30
“I was [at NorthCentral] just over five years. Within the first six months of being there, we lost half of our staff. That’s how bad it was. We had overtime every single day. We were working all that overtime, but pay was so low, it was like having a regular check. They did the 1 percent inflation only when they wanted to give it to you. As a new officer at NCCI, supervisors just picked where you went. At MCI, YOU get to pick where you want to go.
People don’t retire from NCCI. But when I got to MCI I knew that I would eventually be able to retire from there. I didn’t know if I was going to stick with it, but now I will. I was surprised that people were negative about unions, but it must be they’re jealous.”
Case Hoffman, 20
“I started at North Central two years ago. It was crazy there, and there was little control at that facility. At Marion [Correctional Institution] there are rules.
NCCI was literally putting signs in the ground outside of gas stations and colleges to try to recruit Correction Officers because the turnover was so high. Plus, family insurance was $600 per paycheck.
I definitely want to do something law enforcement related and the union job I have now is a stepping stone.”
Morgan Hollenbach, 20
“At Marion, it’s important, we matter and it’s professional. I’ve always wanted to do something with law enforcement but didn’t think I could be a police officer right after high school. At Marion, we’re like a team. I know none of my guys are bringing anything in to jeopardize any of us. It’s a team environment. I know with this union, if they close Marion tomorrow, because of the union, I can probably keep my job.
At NCCI, it was every man or woman for themselves. With the union, I can still take care of my family. I’m going to be able to retire, get deferred comp, pension, have family health care and my kids are going to be able to go to college for free.”
Meghan Allwine, 28
“I picked the field of corrections because I’m from Mansfield, but I wouldn’t have stayed at the private prison. I see a future at MCI, I wouldn’t have made it at NCCI.
I always felt like no one had my back at the private facility. It was a revolving door of inmates and staff. The union facility is totally different. It’s nice to have that support there. The staff from the union protect us more than I’ve had any protection from any job. For real.”