When Dana Wilson was a teenager, she was offered a job at a local supermarket where union members were on strike. She asked her mother, Denver-based United Airlines Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) member Stefani Wilson, what the employer meant when he said she would have to cross the picket line.
Stefani told her daughter the story of honoring the picket line when United Pilots were on strike in 1985 for 29 days, before Dana was born. She impressed upon her daughter that unions are vital to our industry and that, if she took the supermarket job while workers were on strike, she would be harming those workers. Said Dana:
For nearly a decade, my mother’s words resonated with me. Being a union member means you take a stand for the greater good.
There were more lessons about the importance of unions in the Wilson household. The United Airlines bankruptcy, from 2002–2006, was a stressful time for Stefani, who was then a single parent of three.
Knowing how difficult negotiations can be, and feeling powerless in the face of the changes that United was trying to force upon its employees, I placed my trust in the strength of our union.
Stefani’s comprehensive AFA-CWA Flight Attendant contract with United, which covered the health care needs of Dana and her two siblings throughout their lives, was a lifeline to the Wilson family. It was also a lesson to Dana in the value of work and the power of a union contract.
Employed as a professional dancer on Justin Timberlake's 20/20 Experience World Tour, Dana is a spokesperson for her union SAG-AFTRA, which recently reached the first-ever industrywide contract to cover dancers and other performers on music videos with Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, EMI Music and The Walt Disney Co.
While Dana’s profession may be glamorous, working side by side with the likes of Justin Timberlake, it is also hard work. Prior to this contract, music video dancers often worked 20 or more hours at a time in hazardous conditions with little or no workplace protections. Said Dana:
On a video shoot workday, I could be on set for 24 hours. What I do is work, and it deserves fair pay, decent benefits and safety standards.
Now, Dana is protected by a union contract that provides wage security, health benefits, sufficient rest breaks and safety assurance on hazardous sets. (Editor's note: Just last week, Dana and her fellow dancers on Justin Timberlake's tour also secured a historic touring union contract).
Following the merger of the two unions, SAG-AFTRA recently received a new charter from the AFL-CIO, setting an excellent example for work groups struggling to overcome historic divisions.
I’ve done a lot of things that have made my mom proud, but the thing she’s most proud of is my involvement in my union. As members, we must do everything in our power to get involved and make a difference. We must recognize how valuable union membership is because it lifts up all workers.
This article originally appeared in the most recent issue of the AFA Flightlog.