It’s that time again. Typically, when we talk about seasons we refer to a one-year cycle where the weather changes and temperatures rise and fall pretty much as predicted. We follow a schedule and for the most part, we know what to expect, like packing away our swim trunks and taking out our sweaters. When we talk about the contract season, or cycle, we are usually talking about a longer, less predictable cycle. Our major industry contracts are expiring soon, and we have been deep into negotiations for the latter half of this year. As a matter of fact, we have been deep into negotiations for the last 2 years. Usually we negotiate contracts and then have two or three-years between expirations, which helps us to focus more on other aspects of our responsibility, like servicing, organizing, or the political landscape. So why have these past two years been filled with negotiations? Well, by now I’m sure most of you know of the difficult negotiations we had with Pick Quick Key Food. Unfortunately, this was a very public battle by both the Union and the Company. I’m extremely happy to say that in November we were able to settle that contract and the members overwhelmingly ratified it a week later. It was probably the most difficult set of bargaining circumstances I have seen so far, but in the end, we were able to secure members’ pensions, medical coverage, working conditions and wage increases going forward.
Back in 2016, we started ShopRite negotiations. We were used to ShopRite aligning themselves similarly with the Stop & Shop, King Kullen and other industry settlements. Since the ShopRite companies expired in July and August 2016, they had to negotiate first and without another company’s settlement to base their negotiations on. I’m sure you are aware that it was another long and tough set of negotiations. Thankfully almost a year beyond expiration, and with strong member support we were able to settle with them. We had planned on Pick Quick and ShopRite to be settled back in 2016, but those negotiations took us well into 2017. Now we are in the midst of negotiating Stop & Shop, King Kullen, and Fairway. Stop & Shop and King Kullen expire on December 30th and Fairway on April 1st, 2018. The challenges of securing your retirement and medical benefits and raises while companies must pay unprecedented minimum wage increases has been a major hurdle. It’s a long, difficult road ahead, and if given the choice, most of your companies would not pay anyone a cent above minimum wage going forward. We have encountered many companies in the past pushing to do away with your pensions. Can you imagine working every day, looking forward to collecting your pension the whole time, just for the benefit to be stopped along the way? Let me be clear: I will not allow that to happen. But then again, I cannot vote on your contract, only you can.
I cannot stress enough the importance of you being involved in your company’s negotiations. If your negotiating committee doesn’t have, or doesn’t feel that they’ve got the support of the thousands of you that they represent, it could lead to a contract you will not be happy with. Trust me, the company leadership has a pulse on how much support (or lack of) there is out there. And when hundreds of you show up with concern to a Union meeting, rest assured that the Company is just as aware. If your company management believes that it’s just the 5 or 10 committee members negotiating that have a vested interest, they will push to gut as much of your contract as possible. However, if the Company feels that everywhere they turn there is another engaged member that is pissed off and knows what they are up to at bargaining table, their tone and temperament at negotiations is vastly different. So, I’m writing to you to remind you to show your support every day on the shop floor. Without question this will be the toughest set of negotiations we have encountered so far. You’re not only on the team, you ARE the team and we can’t be successful without you. I’m calling on you all to stand up and fight to keep what you have earned over the years, as well as to protect the future generation of workers to follow. Support your negotiating committees from day one and until it’s done. During this holiday season, let’s have our Union family stick together, closer than ever. All the best to you and your families throughout the Holiday Season. See you in the stores!