We Are One: Stories of Work, Life, and Love

Almost anyone can be a member of a labor union. These photos and stories and many more are included in the book WE ARE ONE: Stories of Work, Life, and Love.  By Elizabeth Gottlieb     Foreword by Danny Glover

I had the tremendous honor of interviewing a wide variety of workers from coast to coast. Studs Terkel inspired but with self-portrait photography and illustrations, the book reveals a great diversity through the personal stories of union members. It is a celebration of people from all walks of life, exploring not only their workplaces but life events and ideas about success, inspiring reflection and thought amongst its readers: Ken Howard and Roberta Reardon, then co-presidents of the Screen Actors Guild, convey a bit about acting, Captain James Ray tells what it is like to be an airline pilot and race car driver, and how those occupations steer his parenting. Tony Clark informs us as a retired pro ball player that it’s harder to stay in the major leagues than it is to make it there in the first place. We hear from musicians, laborers, teachers, journalists, auto workers, nurses, a ballet dancer from the San Francisco Ballet, a West Virginia coal miner, filmmaker John Sayles, and many others. We Are One is an introduction to today’s labor movement from a personal perspective and a much needed answer to the all too common negative stereotype of unions.

Regarding We Are One: Stories of Work, Life, and Love:

“…The experiences of their lives, friendships, love, and meaningful work. These are the things that make life worth living and this book tells that story.”
-Danny Glover, from the Foreword

“This book gives us accounts from people we rarely hear from in policy debates…The set of views from a diverse group of people across the country will change how you think about union workers.”
-Dean Baker, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

“We Are One: Stories of Work, Life and Love, takes us into workers’ lives, where we see the joys and challenges that shape who they are. Most of all, we see the dignity of work and the pride in a job well done that shine in everyone, from a professional athlete to a doorman, a filmmaker to a cookie-packer. We also see the difference a union makes in the lives of working families…”
-Richard L. Trumka, President, AFL-CIO

“We Are One: Stories of Work, Life, and Love…is quilt-like in its design, each story woven into a pattern around the questions posed in the interview, with most of the threads in bright colors…These are people we want to get to know.”

“The voices captured in this book are well worth listening to, and, as we learn about their lives, we understand a few important things in a fresh way that we thought we already knew.”

Jane LaTour, Labor Press

“…as a showcase for the benefits wrought by contemporary unions, it shines.”    Eleanor J.Bader, Truthout

Professor/Costume Designer/IATSE



Dorothy Baca (Pictured on left, with Daughter)

I see myself as kind of an anthropologist/historian, using clothing and costuming to help engage the audience in understanding that people have different lives and yet in the end we’re all kind of the same throughout history. I consider myself the keeper of my family’s history and for the importance of what clothing is to a society. Of course family comes into that and what my role is in my own family; as a mother, grandmother, wife, sister, cousin, relationships, all that kind of extended family. I guess that’s the importance of what I do…being connected to people. I grew up in northern New Mexico which is very, very old. I actually realized as I got older that I really grew up in Europe, not in the United States, because it has a very strong sense of history and connection to the earth and a lot of sense of the importance of understanding your history. So, I think that’s kind of the root of where I started to think about clothing and costuming and how people make decisions of what they wore and when they wore it, and all the rules of society that have to do with clothing…

I’m always in the process of getting students to understand how you design; how you think about design, how you problem solve, how you get from your idea to something on stage that actually works, how to encourage creativity but also, getting them to understand that there’s parameters, like how the body moves, what distance does, you know, what the eye can see from a distance, all those technical things…So, to me, it’s just the dream job because I spend 90% of my time in a very creative environment.


Folk Singers/AFM/Local 1000



Jeni Hankins/Billy Kemp “Jeni and Billy”

There are different sizes of success. Like, for example, we had a really nice bowl of oatmeal this morning, and that was a success. There are little successes, like, some days when I’m doing individual practicing, when I’m practicing scales on one of my instruments, I can make a little break-through with my fingering or something; that’s a little success. When I say little, it’s little at the moment but it can be major as far as something that happens later in a performance. We just came back from a tour in Florida and the concerts were highly successful. The reason is we had these audiences of 100, 200 people, totally captivated by the story and the music. That was a major success in my mind; That’s performance success. And then there are practicing successes and recording successes. When you make a record, when they come up with something really great, a lot of times they’ll say “I got lucky” and it’s true. There’s something that’s elusive about recording because, if there were some sort of formula, then everybody would be doing it. Those kinds of successes, recording successes, getting something that you can release, that has some kind of magic, that is major, for me. (Billy)




Engineer Technician, Fire Department/IAFF



Thomas Walker

How do I feel about the work I do? I feel good about it. It’s my make-up. I think it’s important. A lot of times, when people think of firefighters they think all they’re around for is fires, which is really not true. It’s just a misconception they’re having because like I said, when you dial 911, if you’re having chest pain, if there’s car accidents or a medical problem, you get the fire department at your door, pretty much first, and then you have your ambulance come down that we contract with, that transports you to the hospital. Along with that we do fire drills at schools and some teaching at schools, as far as fire safety; how to handle emergencies. If there’s an emergency of any substantial amount in the city, you dial 911, for the most part you’re gonna get either the police department or the fire department.

If you make situations better than before you arrive, that’s one way you can define success I guess. When we go into an emergency situation, we can maintain things or make it better than the way it was when we arrived, then we succeeded. That’s pretty much how I would define success. I seldom have left a scene that wasn’t better off than it was before I arrived.




Garment Worker, Organizer/UNITE HERE



Elsy Rivas

The economy’s really bad. I spent about eight months trying to find a job and here and there I was doing little jobs. (My) job provides you with forty hours and gives you benefits; It’s a great job. I like it. I like the people that I work with but, I just think that there’s something more for me out there that I’m just going to go and pick up and take on. If I would’ve known by now (what that is) I would’ve already gone for it.

College for me is not really an option. I’m technically an alien. I have a permit to live here due to the violence in my country but I’m not allowed to like, be part of anything that has to do with the government, like I can’t join the Army; that’s something that I would love to do. I can’t do any jobs that are in the government. I’m not an illegal per se. I have a permit to be here; I have a social, I have a license, I have a lot of things that people don’t have, but I don’t have citizenship. In order to go to college, if I don’t have citizenship, I would have to pay out of my pocket to go to classes. So, financial aid is not an option for me. From high school, my biggest dream was to do graphic design. That’s what I wanted to do. When I started thinking about going to college, I actually looked into this college, “Institute of Art” in Cambridge. The guy that I went and showed him my art to, he was in love with it. He thought I was going to be so good in there and you know, it was perfect for me because I could go to that school and this and that but as soon as he started talking to me about money, it was just a downfall…

Well, you know what, if it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen for a reason because if I worked my way around to go to college I would have never been part of this and I would have never got that job in Southwick and finally get someone to get me to be part of the union. The opportunities it has given me is just huge.


Boilermaker/ Boilermakers Union

john roeber with grandson 



John Roeber

It was quite the investment that I made in June 2004. Brent, our son worked on it all summer long, well into the fall. With his hard work and determination, he finally got it up and running. After that, it then sat in the backyard for a few years. When Brent died, I had decided one weekend, which was Easter of 2006, to take the grandchildren over to the cemetery, which is only two blocks away from my home. This went on for months, and the kids looked forward to going because they took turns driving. When I look at this picture, it make me realize that you need to take in every little minute and cherish it, because life is way too short.

As a field construction boilermaker, I’d have to call the union hall and get a dispatch…then I’d have to pack all my clothes in a suitcase. I’d always have to make sure that I had all my bills with me or I’d have to pay ‘em. You’d have to make sure your car was mechanically capable of going 350 miles. You’d have to plan. You’d have to think about renting an apartment, so you’d have to get set up. Most of the time I’d room with somebody; that would help try to cut the cost. Then, you’d go there and get hired in and then you’d be working 10 hours/day, probably on the average back then was 6 days/week and then you’d go in and tear apart certain parts of the boiler and would work on it. In our profession, you have to be a highly skilled welder. That took some skill. Basically, in my day, you’d be up there for 8-10 weeks, sometimes with Sundays off. If I had Sundays off, I’d actually drive home for my day off, to try to spend time with family…In my younger days I did that.

Coal Miner/UMW



Charles “Hawkeye” Dixon

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. She taught me a whole lot about hardships endured by, you know, the coal miners back then. She was a young girl during the Matewan massacre. She passed away probably about four or five years ago; She lived well into her nineties, just a great lady. She would tell me about her and the coal miners, about her home, about her house. They had a lard bucket, for a dinner bucket. Most of them would have their clothes…tied on ‘em, with no suspenders, holding the clothes on ‘em. They just really had it tough. They made their clothes out of sacs that they used to carry feed in and I try to learn a lot of my lessons from her.

I myself, I graduated high school in 1970 and in 1971 I went into the coal mine, got married at an early age too and went into the coal mines. The first seven years I worked in a coal mine was in thirty inch coal. But it was a union mine. I learned pretty quickly that these union miners, they took up for each other. The older miners, they took you under their wings and watched out for you. Union mines had that. You had safer mines that way. After about a year or so I learned how to run a roof bolter. My primary job was to make the top safe for everybody. They would put roof bolts into the roof of the mine. Thirty inch seam would be thirty inches thick. You had thirty inches. It’d be like crawling under a coffee table and then working all day. What was over top though was a mountain.




Kathryn Gottlieb

My self-description is definite life-long learner… honestly I hate using that expression because in the educational field it’s really overused, but it really does describe my approach to things. I’m just in awe of how many things there are to learn and know and be amazed by and that’s also part of what drives me as a teacher. I also want to be able to pass that on to my students…that kind of approach, that kind of “Wow” thing. And, I know this is weird but, you can get that same “Wow” from conjugating verbs as you can get from discovering herbs in a forest and I’m just out to convince my students of that.

To me (the union) relates to our dysfunctional, topsy-turvy norm that we settle for in our culture about who’s valuable for what they do. So a union is a chance for some sort of moderation and reminder or a call for sanity…

Airline Pilot/USAPA

Captain James Ray Cockpit 

Captain James Ray

Somebody once described my profession as months and months of sheer boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror and it’s kind of a funny way to stamp it…. I still get a kick out of punching out of an overcast sky early in the morning with the sun coming up. I still get a challenge and satisfaction out of making a nice landing and making all of the thousands of decisions that it takes to fly, on a daily basis.

It’s an important business, the safety of our passengers is important and you need a highly qualified, highly motivated, highly educated individual to do this job and you know, I’m afraid we don’t have a lot of them coming out of college this way so if we can turn a corner, and we can make this job attractive again, and we will hopefully attract the best and the brightest to keep this profession going and to keep our skies safe.

Ballet Dancer/AGMA


Photo by Alexander Reneff-Olson

Kimberly Braylock

I love performances. I think I love performing more than anything else. I love being on stage. I feel like that’s where I have freedom. You are being put on the spotlight. I mean, you can be in the background and someone may not see you but, you’re putting yourself on a painting. You know, you’re putting yourself on stage to be seen by a huge audience and you know that you’re a part of something. You’re a part of a production that is being presented to people that want to either escape, you know, from their day to day lives, or they want to see something beautiful. I know I’m serving people because I am giving them something. So, that’s why I like being on stage and it’s the feeling..It’s like you and lights and the costumes and, everything about it…just makes me feel great.

I’m in a union because once I was hired into the San Francisco Ballet, every dancer that’s employed has to be part of the union. I was so shocked. I did not know much about unions… when I got hired into the Company, they were like, “You have to pay this much money to become a member of the union.” I was like, “What? Really?” You know, I guess I wasn’t that aware, [but] I understood it after it was explained to me. I’m one to ask questions so…What they told me right from the start was pretty much the union protects us and protects our rights and all those things so, that was good to hear; I was fine with it. Essentially because I was part of the negotiating committee for the union, because they were renegotiating our contract and I was just an apprentice and I was like, “Yeah! I’ll be a part of that” and, I learned quickly.

I have friends that are dancers, in companies that aren’t a part of the union and those dancers have to go through a lot of hell with their bodies, so, I’m completely grateful. I think with our union they created a contract with a lot of…I mean, a lot of ballet companies have A.G.M.A. but I guess for us, our contracts were really negotiated well. The San Francisco Ballet Company is a well known company so they have more financial ability to negotiate with the dancers but we have things in our contract that limits how many hours we can work. Like, if we override those hours we get paid extra. We get breaks every hour. There’s a whole list of benefits that we get and (physical) therapy and things that will keep our bodies intact. That’s the most important thing for me. I just see it as a huge benefit because our bodies are taken care of, which insures us for a longer dance career. We’re putting our bodies at risk and our bodies are our career.