More than 14.5 million American workers are in a union and have access to money for college and job training.
By Matt Konrad
The coming Labor Day weekend signals the unofficial end of summer and the start of the school year for most students. It’s also a time to celebrate American labor and a perfect opportunity to explore scholarships available through the nation’s labor unions.
With 14.5 million current members, the nation’s unions cover a wide variety of workers, including more than 35 percent of public-sector employees. If you or one of your parents are among that group, the union can be an excellent place to find extra money for job training, certification or a college degree.
No matter which union you or your parents belong to, the Union Plus Scholarship Program should be the first stop for any scholarship seeker. Since 1992, Union Plus has awarded more than $3.6 million in scholarships to union members, retirees and their dependents.
Since Union Plus is a collaborative program started by the AFL-CIO, the application is open to students associated with a wide variety of unions. Scholarships range from $500 to $4,000 and while they’re not renewable, you can reapply each year you’re in school.
Union Plus Scholarships are open for application now through Jan. 31, 2015. While you’re there, check out the organization’s other resources, which include test-prep and textbook discounts, "Debt Eraser" grants and educational webinars.
Most nationwide unions sponsor scholarship competitions for members and their dependents, and these national contests can pay off in a big way.
If you have a parent who belongs to one of the two national postal workers’ unions, you’re in luck. The American Postal Workers Union offers high school seniors a four-year renewable scholarship worth $2,000 each year for college tuition. If you’re more interested in a vocational or technical education, you can apply for a $3,000 one-time award.
The National Association of Letter Carriers, a union of city-based mail carriers, offers five different options, including the $4,000 renewable William C. Doherty Scholarship.
Members and dependents of the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the two largest public services unions in the nation, also have a wide variety of scholarships to apply for. SEIU, which also covers health care and property-services workers, awards more than 50 annual scholarships via lottery, as well as competitive scholarships for those studying labor, the arts and social change. AFSCME provides college scholarship funding, along with internships and awards for short-term courses of study.
Of course, unions do much of their work on the local and regional levels, and their scholarship programs are no different. The United Auto Workers award a number of scholarships through the national union, through locals and through regional confederations.
One of the most lucrative is the $10,000 Richard T. Gosser Scholarship, offered to students in Ohio and Indiana by UAW Region 2B. High school seniors who plan to start college in the fall of 2015 can apply through Oct. 15.
On the city and community level, it pays to check every year with your or your parents’ local union. Just about every local offers scholarships, whether your parent is an electrician in Minneapolis, a camera operator in Hollywood or a grocery store employee in Washington.
Finally, some union-sponsored scholarships don’t even require union membership. The ILA Local 1408 Scholarship Fund was started in 1995 to benefit families of Jacksonville, Florida’s International Longshoreman Association. Since then, as college costs have continued to rise, the program has expanded, and now all high school seniors and returning college students in Jacksonville and four surrounding counties are invited to apply.