Union Benefits Offer Security during Health Scare

A message from PCC union member, Sara Robertson

Sara Robertson and Sons
Sara Robertson and Sons

As we head into contract negotiations, I’d like to take a moment and share what being part of a union has meant to me.

I certainly didn’t predict I’d get sick, especially at 30 and having just had my second child with a basically optimal health record up until that point. I’ve since spent a decade navigating aspects of the healthcare system, and, depending on what organ or part of me is under scrutiny, there’s a different doctor and protocol, followed by a new vocabulary to learn. Many of us can relate to all the effort it takes to be a patient, which is layered onto the other important roles in life — primary for me have been: mother, educator, household provider, daughter, sister, and by circumstance have had to add medical advocate, disease translator, literature searcher, and so on.

Now for my introduction to the value of union membership. My first academic gig was in Idaho, a full time tenure track position, where I naively found myself in a “right to work” state. As a grad student I had full healthcare coverage as part of an assistantship, and therefore secure benefits as a union member. I admit that I was pretty oblivious to the fact that the security provided me and my family came from a shared contract, including full coverage for having my child in the university hospital and receiving care from my OBGYN literally on campus. I mean, I knew I was part of a union, but I didn’t really give it more thought than — wow, this is a solid job! The stark realization that I hadn’t considered union membership wasn’t until after arriving in Idaho, and noticing the low but constant murmur of various complaints from colleagues about healthcare, wages and workplace issues, with no collective means of advocating for different or better — for example, I was shocked to learn my preferred birth control wasn’t covered — which seriously made me question where had I landed.

So, fast forward a few years into my tenure at PCC, after navigating several rounds of the same health issue, but mostly over the summer without much work interference, but lots of life interruption. I had a pacemaker/defibrillator that had been malfunctioning repeatedly, and unexpectedly, and when the darn device broke for a third time in May of 2015, it shocked me unnecessarily, I was facing yet another surgery, and much more scared about what the future would look like. While I was in the middle of navigating it all — ensuring care for my children, recovering physically, managing job duties, fumbling through a wonky health care system as a sick person — I had a very sincere moment when I was brought to tears, filled with gratitude for my union. I knew that I would most likely be having some questions about job coverage, medical leave, and so on, and in that moment I realized I had a group of people to turn to that would help me get straight answers. I felt so cared for by the people who had worked diligently on my behalf to ensure I was going to be okay because of a strong and clear contract that would give me the time needed to heal. I knew I had job security, despite being sick. I knew I had health coverage, despite a long term condition. I knew as the sole provider for my family that I could allow myself to be a patient for a spell, get better, and return to work, and not carry a huge burden of worry with me into the hospital.

As I’ve learned more since, it’s clear to me that not all of us have access to the same benefits at the same rates, and I see our union working towards increased equity for all of members — academic professionals, part-time faculty and full-time faculty, in tandem. The more I talk to colleagues across those classifications, the better I understand how students at PCC are provided excellent education and mentorship, and I hope you can take us up on a few opportunities to share your voice:

  1. Take a colleague to coffee on us — get to know a colleague’s work, or renew a connection across departments — all it takes is talking to others.
  2. Attend an open bargaining session and share your thoughts/concerns with your federation representatives.