Olivia Roffle was only a teenager when she first thought about what it would mean to be in a union. It was five years ago, and she and her mother were riding in Angela’s silver Ford Focus from their home in St. Louis to visit an ailing family member in Kansas City. Angela was telling her daughter about the time in the late ’60s when a crane threw Angela’s uncle Pete from the roof of the Ralstoen-Purina factory in St. Louis, where he worked as a carpenter. The fall crushed his hip and put him out of work for most of the rest of his life. But Pete was in the carpenters’ union and because of that, his health care was paid for, his pension left intact. It supported him and his wife for decades. “Without the union, he would have been in abject poverty,” Angela says now.
"It changes sometimes depending how she tells it," Olivia says of the story, which she had heard before. But that time, on the drive, she says, "I remember thinking about how important that is — to have those things my uncle had at work. Where I work, we don’t have any of that." Olivia, who’s 23 now, has worked a string of fast-food jobs since she was a teenager, most recently at Papa John’s Pizza. She’s gone in to work sick on many occasions herself, and seen co-workers get injured on the job; with no paid sick days or disposable income, they would sometimes arrive at work the next day in a sling.