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Unions and education: Keys to the American dream

Posted on July 24, 2013
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Scholarship blog

Immigrant families join unions, work hard and achieve success-with help from Union Plus scholarships and other benefits.


For centuries, immigrants have come to America seeking opportunity. In these difficult economic times, some people would say those opportunities are fewer than before. But for many immigrants who join unions, the American dream is still very much within reach.

Recently, Union Plus announced the winners of its 2013 scholarships. Among the honorees were dozens of students who are children or grandchildren of immigrants-many of whom overcame considerable obstacles and hardship thanks to the union-and who are now excelling academically while pursuing education and careers in fields such as medicine and law. 



Meet Phuong Dong, UFCW Local 400 member from Fairfax, Virginia.

When Phuong Dong of Fairfax, VA, came to America from Vietnam he suffered a serious workplace injury.

But as a union member in United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 400, he was entitled to protection-and compensation. UFCW backed him through his injuries, ensured he received proper care and benefits, guaranteed his job was waiting for him upon his return, and helped achieve a safer workplace for his coworkers.

He also helped achieve opportunity for his family. Today Phuong's daughter Ngoc, who recently received a Union Plus scholarship, has attained a business degree and is pursuing a career in management.

Her father's decision to join the union, he says, "Saved our family."

The Dong family's story is a familiar one, only with a modern twist. For generations immigrant families have come to America, joined unions and worked hard, while their children and grandchildren have advanced their careers through college education.

Today, however, rising education costs are making it difficult for even many union families to afford the cost of tuition. That's one reason Union Plus, which was established by the AFL-CIO to provide important consumer benefits to union members and retirees, offers a unique scholarship program for union members and family members-a program that in just over two decades has awarded over $3.5 million in education funding. 


Meet Electra Nassis, (IBEW Local 3) and Andrew Gonzales (IUOE Local 3).

Electra Nassis of Dobbs Ferry, NY, whose family immigrated to the United States from Greece, is studying biomedical engineering. But she knows she wouldn't be where she is today if it weren't for her father Yanni's membership in International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3.

"As immigrants, my family had to start with nothing when we first came to the United States," she says. "I have watched my parents work endlessly for 14 years to provide us with food, clothing and shelter. They succeeded and I will, too." To help ensure Electra's success, and defray the costs of higher education, Union Plus has provided her with a scholarship.

Andrew Gonzales of Winters, CA, grew up solidly middle class-an advantage he attributes to his grandparents joining unions after immigrating, and to both his parents being union members, including his father's membership in International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 3. "I am thankful to them for the lifestyle I live," Andrew says.

"They came to work in this country as laborers," he adds, "and because of unions they were given the opportunity to advance the quality of their life."


If you are a union member or your parents, spouse or children are members-and pursuing the American Dream through education-click to learn more about Union Plus Scholarship awards. Also check these following benefits that help union families afford higher education:

  • National Labor College (NLC) Scholarships to help union members and leaders finish their degrees with an affordable, flexible and convenient online NLC program. And the NLC now offers an associate of arts degrees (for the first two years of college);
  • Discounts of 15 to 60 percent on college and graduate school test (e.g. SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT, GRE, etc.) preparation courses from The Princeton Review.

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