As a young girl growing up in Liberia, I would sneak on the bus every day from my village so that I could attend school near my aunt's house. In Liberia, girls do not always have the option of education. I dreamed of a better life with opportunity and dignity. It was not until I came to Philadelphia that I was able to again pursue my education in the land of opportunity.
In 2005, I left Liberia and came to America as a refugee filled with hope for the future. As a mother of four, I wanted my children's life to be better than my own.
Like so many immigrants from Africa, I ended up working at Philadelphia International Airport, first for Delta and then for a subcontractor that cleans airplanes. Cleaning the cabin of airplanes is hard work with extreme temperatures inside the cabin, little time in between flights and tight spaces to reach that make every part of my body ache.
My co-workers and I, most of whom made the minimum wage of $7.25 or pennies more, started speaking out for better pay and treatment. Reminding me of my bus trips as a young girl, as I crouched down to clean under the seats and floors of the airplane cabin, I dreamed of a better life with opportunity and dignity. So I joined my co-workers and demanded what was ours: decent pay, better working conditions, and respect.
Together, we fought to raise the airport's minimum wage to $12 an hour and went on strike many times to protest our poor treatment on the job. We joined union 32BJ and demanded that our employers bargain a contract with us. At every turn, we had to fight for what we deserve.
It took six years, but we recently won our first union contract and doubled our wages from the time we began organizing. There are few things that make me prouder than knowing that airport workers who come after us will benefit from our sacrifice. They won't have to work for poverty wages or worry about being fired for no reason. And I know that through our union, and the support we received from elected officials and clergy, there are 1,500 more jobs for people in Philadelphia.
At a time when both immigrants and unions are under unprecedented attack, I am hopeful that most Americans understand that we simply want to take care of our families and have a shot at the American Dream. We have fought to make airport jobs good, union jobs for everyone.
America needs unions because union jobs build thriving communities. It did not take me long to realize that in the United States, unions are the pathway to middle class whether you're black, white, immigrant, native born, blue-collar, or white-collar. Unions level the playing field and allow you to have dignity on the job.
The rich and powerful forces behind recent anti-union Supreme Court cases, and countless laws at the state and federal level, seek to take away our dignity and eliminate unions. They are fighting on every front to destroy the good union jobs that provide financial security for our families.
Workers like us know better. We know that when we join a union and speak up, we are more powerful. That's why we're going to stick together, keep up the fight to help more workers create unions, and call on elected leaders to support legislation to make it easier, not harder, to join a union.
The recently introduced PA Workplace Freedom Act deserves the support of our elected leaders in Harrisburg. As the election season gears up, voters should be loud and clear in finding out whether the men and women who seek to represent them support unions and worker's rights.
Even as corporate special interests seek to divide us, together we can make sure that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to make the American Dream a reality.