On Tuesday morning, as union veteran Sam Tijerina drove from Pasadena, Texas, to Dallas, he had a lot on his mind. His thoughts wandered as he passed mile markers and towns—he thought about his young family at home and the life that having a union job has provided them. “A union card has allowed me to live with dignity,” he said.
Tijerina was traveling to one of the largest acts of civil disobedience that the Texas labor movement has waged in years. LSG Sky Chef workers, who are contracted by American Airlines, planned a rally with UNITE HERE to advocate for raising wages. “It was important to be part of the civil disobedience because my fellow veterans are affected by poor wages,” Tijerina said. “There are an estimated 1.3 million veteran workers who earn less than $15 an hour. It is disheartening to know my brothers and sisters have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. One job should be enough.”
More than 600 supporters showed up at the protest, including catering workers, union members from other airports and local supporters like Tijerina. He was one of 58 people who were arrested while blocking traffic during the protest.
Tijerina is an Elevator Constructor (IUEC) from Local 31 and a Marine veteran who served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom II. The Marines taught him about selfless service and how to lead by example. “I know that it’s not just about me,” Tijerina said. “It’s about fighting for everyone, no matter what their situation is.” This is the same sentiment echoed by Union Veterans Council Executive Director Will Attig at a recent speech to the Texas AFL-CIO convention, shortly before announcing the creation of a Texas chapter of the Union Veterans Council. “Leaders lead from the front and motivate others to take action,” Attig added. “Texas union vets are ready to take action to support the working people of this state.”
Earlier this year, Attig was among a group of union leaders and activists who were arrested at the U.S. Capitol during the government shutdown, when a quarter of 1 million veteran workers faced no pay and job instability. Attig hopes this action will motivate fellow union veterans to get more involved. Attig wants Union Veterans Council members and the labor movement to know that union veterans are a force to be reckoned with.
The Union Veterans Council is working to unify our veterans by giving them the tools and platform to make their voices heard on a local and national level, along with inspiring union veterans to take an action-based role in the labor movement. Tijerina is just one of a growing movement of union veterans across the country who are using their voices to fight and advocate for fellow workers and the issues that matter to their community.
This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on August 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.