Published in the August 21, 2014 Santa Maria Times.

In Greek mythology, the Phoenix is a great bird that rises from the dead. Even when consumed by fire, the Phoenix emerges from the ashes to live again.

Unions, like the Phoenix, are rising again, rising from the ashes of near-extinction and unrelenting assault by corporate America to once again represent American workers in their fight for justice and equality.

The Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College has added 150 new members to its ranks over the past year. Our efforts were recognized at the California Federation of Teachers Convention in March, and at the American Federation of Teachers Convention in Los Angeles in July. There we were presented with a Pride of the Union Award, handed out by AFT President Randi Weingarten.

At the latter event we learned our local is not the only one that is growing. The American Federation of Teachers grew from 1.4 million last year to 1.6 million this year.

Union membership is on the rise, growing in 2013 in the private sector at the highest rate in 30 years. More significantly, the desire of workers to unionize is growing exponentially.

Polls consistently show 53-57 percent of non-union workers are in favor of joining a union. Fast-food workers all over the country have been marching for increased pay and the right to join a union. At Georgetown University in May the adjunct faculty voted 70 percent in favor of unionization. The list goes on and on.

Workers of all stripes are joining unions. Why?

Unionized workers earn more money. In 2013, unionized workers earned an average of $200 per week more than those who are not unionized. That translates into $10,400 more a year.

But the reasons go even deeper. People are catching on to the fact that, as Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “The times are out of joint,” and unions are a way of addressing that.

The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans have more money than the bottom 90 percent. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created by the recovery went to the 1 percent. Such economic inequality has not been seen in the USA in 100 years. Far too much has been going to far too few.

During the golden age of the American middle class, starting roughly in 1945 and ending in 1980, taxes on the wealthy and on corporations were high, governmental regulations and programs to help the ordinary person were intact, and unions were strong. During this brief shining moment, the middle class reached its apex in terms of its living standard. It grew and flourished, and opportunities to move up the socio-economic ladder were many.

No longer. There is now more economic mobility in Europe than in the USA — a bitter pill to swallow for those who cling to the notion that America is still the land of opportunity.

Unions formed a counterbalance to the power of the rich and corporations. In the 1970s, when union membership was still high, the average CEO made approximately 50 times what the average worker earned. Today, that ratio has increased to 475-1.

When college teachers die penniless and part-time instructors at Hancock College report they must go the local food banks when their course load is cut back, the times are definitely unbalanced.

The increase in union membership in the Part-Time Faculty Association is a reflection of what is going on in the rest of the country. Like the Phoenix, unions keep coming back.

Mark James Miller, President, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, CFT Local 6185, Santa Maria, CA