Returning to Right-to-Work Florida After Working in Detroit: What I Learned

By Marian Dozier
For Deadline Detroit

The NPR news host was talking about Hostess and I was driving my 15-year-old to school. We listened to the story, which was punctuated with details of a long, ugly strike by company employees.

My daughter was incredulous. It is so stupid, she said, for them to walk out on their jobs; they should be happy to work.

Twenty-five years ago, I was her. We both grew up in right-to-work Florida, intuitively believing that to be hired was to mean being treated fairly. Period. 

I changed, though. I got a job in Detroit.

On July 13, 1995, I walked out on MY job as a staff writer at the Detroit Free Press. At the time, I wasn’t intellectually committed to the strike, which saw six unions -- including the Teamsters and mine, the Newspaper Guild -- fight the fallout from the Joint Operating Agreement signed by the Freep and The Detroit News. I figured we’d hang out a few days, then go back to work.

That is not what happened. We were out for nearly three years before offered what some of us called “punishment beats” in order to return. I turned down mine and, instead, ended up at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. The company won.

But during the strike, and in all the years since, my commitment to the tenets of the union movement grew. I came to learn it was unions, born in Detroit, which led to the worker benefits we now take for granted. The 40-hour work week, vacation pay, health benefits -- and most importantly, the rise of the middle class.

Dutifully, I recounted all of this to my teenager as I discussed the unraveling of Hostess and what another loss in the worker column meant. This is why Wisconsin happened, I told her. Why the Michigan Legislature felt empowered to crush union rights. Why Wal-Mart can pay such low wages.

"I know, Mommy, I know," she said, rolling her eyes. "You told me already."

And in that instant, as I looked at this child who would soon begin to work herself, I saw why the union movement was dying a slow, steady death.

Because today’s workers don’t seem to know they have more than the right to work; they have rights -- rights which Detroit, and I, fought for. 

And that’s not stupid, dear daughter. That’s tragic.

Marian Dozier is a legislative aide for the Riviera Beach City Council in Florida.

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