20 Years Later: How the Union Made Our Dreams a Reality

I got a text from my husband Anthony last night asking me where I was. He said he had good news to share. I was out with my photographer friend Jen, on a spontaneous get together for early dinner. One of my favorite things about my job is the amazing photographer friends I have met and the flexibility in my work schedule that allows me to get together at 4:00 on a Wednesday, on the spur of the moment.

Anthony has been working no less than 10 hour days, six days a week, for a few months now. This week he's working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. His work is so physical and I have no idea how he does it without being cranky, but he's doing it now. We are like ships passing in the night these days. Sometimes we don't even see each other at all for a day or two. It's been hard.

I called him on my way home and asked what was the good news. He said the union sent him a pin commemorating his 20th year in the Carpenter's Union, Local 22. They sent a congratulatory letter and cool lapel pin. In San Francisco, the unions are strong and they have been such an important part of our life. I am forever grateful for all they have provided for our family.

In 1995, we planned to have a baby. He was working as a non-union carpenter, making around $8 an hour, and I was working at Neiman Marcus. We were not sure how we were going to make it all work, but we knew things would work out. I got pregnant and not soon after his company got a huge City Hall contract for their big retrofit. His company joined the Carpenters Union and all of their employees were automatically brought into the union. It was a complete game-changer for us. It meant full healthcare benefits, a huge raise, vacation pay, working on job sites like Giants stadium, and it meant a brotherhood, for Anthony.

In February of 1996, our baby Sydney was born. I maxed out my maternity leave and family leave act time off, and we came to the decision I would leave my steady paycheck at Neiman Marcus and stay home to raise Sydney. After looking into the cost of daycare, and feeling my heart break just thinking about going back to work, it was the right choice for us, even though we had no idea how we would do it. It was a huge leap, we jumped and never looked back. I could have never left my job had Anthony not been in the union.

I got my business license and planned to be a photographer. That was great on paper, but it took way longer than I planned. I got pregnant with Tristan, when Sydney was only seven months old. That put me back and my photography business once again was on the back burner.

We were quickly outgrowing our small flat in the Sunset. Friends suggested we should look into buying a house. Crazy as that was, again, we took a leap of faith and found and bought a fixer-upper in San Francisco, on Tristan's first birthday. Again, a risky move at the time, but I am thankful we took a leap of faith, as we could not afford to rent in San Francisco now. I am so very grateful.

Anthony supported the family solely on his union job for 10 years. In the early days, I shot most people's maternity photos for free, to get experience. I worked a side job for a few hours a week with my friend Emma; that brought in a few bucks for a couple of bags of groceries, but Anthony was the sole provider for our family of four, living in our own home in San Francisco. Pretty amazing when I reflect back.

We have always had top-notch health care coverage, orthodontic, dental and eye care. You don't know how much money that saves you until you have a baby, have a child that needs surgery or ongoing mental health care. I am always so thankful for the amazing benefits Anthony earns through the union.

There have been times when work has been scarce and he's found a way to get just enough hours to keep our benefits intact. He is very well known in his industry because he is reliable, hardworking and so good at what he does. There are not many finish trim carpenters out there and he definitely stands out as one of the best. He has a long list of people to call when he's looking for his next job, and always seems to get something just in time. It is a really hard job and can be hard on your ego because when a job is done you are let go. There is generally no warning. At the end of the day, they say, "take your tools, thanks for the hard work." That is hard and he has learned that it is not personal just the way this business is. He can have 10 different employers in a year. It's unsettling and a part of the territory.

I am so very proud of his really special achievement. Although I knew he's been in the union for as long as Sydney has been alive, I didn't really think about the fact it has been 20 years! I am happy the union acknowledged this impressive time commitment and I wanted to take the time to do the same for my hardworking, talented, loyal hubby.

Thank you for giving us this incredible life in the city I love so very much. You have sacrificed and worked so hard so I could follow my dreams of owning my own business when I made no money at all. You provided for us so I could stay home and raise our children. You have worked tirelessly to always make sure there was a roof over our heads and food on the table. You never complain about the long hours or lack of stability. You just do it and make it happen. We are all so proud of you and love you so much. Congratulations on 20 years in Local 22!