Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on the AFSCME Now blog.

Through AFSCME, public service workers build the power in numbers they need to make progress for their jobs, their families and the communities they serve. The achievements of AFSCME members this year in the nation’s largest state – California – underscore what working people can do when they have the freedom to stand together through strong unions.

East Bay Regional Parks lifeguards are trained to protect people as they enjoy their summers at the beaches, swimming pools and lagoons throughout the region.

Once those recreation areas are closed for the day, no one expects those lifeguards to keep on working, especially when they’re not at the swimming areas they monitor.

The International Union recently announced that applications are now being taken for the annual scholarship, which is available for children of full dues-paying AFSCME members.

The scholarships, which will be awarded to 10 applicants, are worth $2,000 and will be renewed each year for up to four years, provided the student remains enrolled in a full-time degree program at an accredited institution. The scholarship may be used for any field of study.

It was spring 1985, and tensions were high at the East Bay Municipal Utilities District.

Around that time, a group of black employees sued the water district for discrimination over allegations that they were being passed over for promotions because of their race. Suddenly out of nowhere, management decided to make a policy change to allegedly save money. They required plumbers to report to job sites with their personal vehicles instead of work trucks.

Local 2428 members recently won a contract that brings more equity to the workers who maintain the endless miles of open space that make the Bay Area one of the best places to live in the country.

At a time when housing prices continue to skyrocket and the wealth gap keeps disproportionately growing, Local 2428 reached an agreement with the East Bay Regional Park District that gives all members a 12.8% wage increase over four years, plus a new top step with a 2.5% wage increase available for all positions.

You’ve heard the myth of the self-made man: If you cultivate a positive attitude and work hard, you can start out with nothing and still become the next billionaire. What’s more appealing than the belief in complete self-sufficiency?

Yet, reality is otherwise. As a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) points out, American workers have always done better for themselves and their families when they join together in strong unions. It’s through collective bargaining that they have a voice on the job and greater control over their lives and their futures.

More than 100 Local 2620 state psychologists will be able to keep their jobs thanks an important victory in the State Legislature that will give them more flexibility when it comes to obtaining their professional licenses.

It was going to be a special day and John Marciel had it all planned: He and his family would attend his eldest son’s high school graduation. Then they would relax at the Centerville Beach near Ferndale, California, about 260 miles north of San Francisco.

Saving a stranger’s life was not on the agenda.