By: Tony Speelman
After months of division, hate and separatism, America has finally elected a new president. I wish to congratulate Mr. Trump and look forward to seeing how his vision for America reflects on us, the American workers. I’m not concerned with whom you voted for, or if you agree or disagree with whom our Union endorsed, I only care about one thing; making our union jobs stronger and better than ever before. If Donald Trump’s campaign introduces policies which strengthen our jobs and our industry, raises our wages and increases our union’s strength, then this is a great victory. Unfortunately, some early indications say otherwise. Trump’s Vice Presidential selection, Mike Pence, has repeatedly voted against any increase in the minimum wage for workers, and both he and President-Elect Trump have supported legislation that defunds Unions.
Throughout this election season we have heard how much hard-working families and the middle class are tired of divisive political rhetoric. People everywhere want to feel like Washington, DC actually works for them and is capable of providing them with economic opportunity. What we can learn from the Trump movement is that when people unite, anything is possible. What’s possible for us if we do the same is limitless. One of the greatest benefits of having a union contract is the knowledge that you and your co-workers have the power to shape your own future.
When I took office in May we began to slowly transform our Union. We’ve done many things differently than they were done before. Our latest contract campaigns have resulted in major gains for the hardworking men and women we represent. We won pension benefits for the first time for the Fairway truck drivers. We secured benefits, negotiated raises and increased guaranteed hours for our folks at Wild by Nature in their new five-year contract and we have not settled with companies who want to take our member’s retirement securities and benefits away. We have fought back when pushed and we will continue to fight when greedy employers refuse to recognize how much your hard work makes their companies successful. We are not in a rush to settle a bad contract. What my team is instituting here is a precedent for our union, you deserve better and we will not stand by while you get walked over.
Our Union is changing. We won our first Organizing victory in decades (see page 4), bringing fairness and a voice to the men and women working at Hale & Hearty’s commissary in Brooklyn. This was a tremendous victory, and I congratulate Aly Waddy and the Organizing Department for all of their hard work and their dedication to this group of workers.
Since taking office we have gone through expense that our Union takes on and found dozens of ways to reduce and/or eliminate many unnecessary expenses. This task will result in serious savings and ensure that your money is spent more wisely. We are still hiring more staff and plan to use them to help us all achieve stronger contracts, more job security and to better service our members.
Together we decided to dedicate our building after our mentor, our late former President, Frank Meehan. If you didn’t know Frank you can visit our website ufcw1500.org/Meehan to learn more about him. Frank was a wonderful man and a dynamic labor leader who ran our Union for over 20 years. Without Frank we wouldn’t have our own Union building or the great contracts and benefits we have today. Frank was a pioneer and he believed in not only helping our members, but our communities. It was with that in mind that he began raising funds for St. Mary’s Hospital for Kids and the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS) to help families affected by blood cancer. Because of his work the UFCW has raised nearly $800 million for the LLS. As fate would have it Frank passed last year after losing a tough battle to a rare form of leukemia. In October, we proudly dedicated our Union Hall with our members, Frank’s family and some friends. The building located at 425 Merrick Avenue, Westbury will forever be known as “Frank Meehan Hall”.
I guess my point is that we’re evolving. We’ve successfully introduced better language in our contracts to help all workers. We have secured anti-discrimination language in all our recent contracts and have succeeded in adding more guaranteed part-time hours wherever we can. When I took office a few months back I asked you all to take a survey about your Union, for the record I read every single response, and most have thankfully been positive. However, there is much work to do. We will be focusing on helping part-timers more (especially with scheduling), holding politicians accountable to their campaign promises and of course fighting like hell to raise your wages. I am eager to still hear more voices. You can still take the survey at ufcw1500.org/survey16 and can do so anonymously.
Thank you for your support and your hard work this year. 2016 was a year of ups and downs for our Union, but I know that we are now heading in the right direction. Thank you for your hard work every day in the stores, for helping thousands of New Yorkers celebrate the holiday season and for being a part of their communities. Have a wonderful holiday season, a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.