In a recent store visit, I had a lengthy conversation with one of our most senior-tenured rank-and-file executive board members. During this conversation, he outlined what he thought is the foundation of successfully running a labor union. He stated that if a union executive team and its staff can properly execute and maintain these four critical points, they will always be operating in the best interests of their membership. What struck me the most about our conversation, was the thought and obvious time he took to formulate these ideas, which clearly came from his experience and point of view as a long-term member. I then told him thanks for the inspiration and that I would completely be plagiarizing him for my next article. There’s my disclaimer.
The recently coined “Four Pillars of Successful Union Leadership” are as follows: Solidarity; Sustainability; Fiscal Conservancy; and Transparency. They are listed in no particular order, and no one is, or necessarily should be more important than the other. However, I am sure that everyone reading this will have varying opinions on how they would rank them in order of importance, and I would be really interested to see those results. But if I had to rank them, I would do so as written below, and you’ll also see my reasons why. This is my spin on it so let’s get deeper into each of them and see if you agree with each point:
- Transparency. I believe trust to be of the utmost importance. If our membership can see and understand what is happening with their Union, and especially why, you will feel more confident in our day-to-day decision-making processes. Most decisions that are made by Local 1500’s executive team affect or will affect the livelihoods of our membership, not just today, but for years to come, and not one decision is taken lightly. The leadership of our Union knows that arbitrary, uninformed, or reckless decision-making could lead to problems for our membership and would eventually lead to doubt or uncertainty. We’re not having that. Being as open and up front as possible with our membership is the best way to make sure you know we are making the best decisions we can. Want more information? Sure…come out to our next General Membership Meeting, or read our articles, or reach out! We are glad to hear from you and will happily answer any questions you may have. We pride ourselves on being as open and informative as possible, and I believe that our level of transparency lends to building trust amongst our staff, our executive board, and our entire membership.
- We typically talk about sustainability in a more modern and widely used sense, where we make decisions for the longevity of our environment. For example, we purchase products that are recyclable or reusable, so we can do our part to have a positive impact on our short- and long-term future. It’s the same concept when it comes to running your Union. The more work that is put in now will have a greater outcome for our membership in the future. That has always been Local 1500’s point of view and your current leadership couldn’t agree more. We know that the fighting and uncomfortable days we have now when negotiating your contracts means sustaining what we have all fought for over the years. It’s difficult to face your employers and demand even more from them for you. But we know that in the long term, the outcome will be enjoyed by the people we represent, so we will never hesitate. Our leadership team is committed to constantly bettering the quality of life of our membership and delivering and maintaining good contracts is key to that success. Fighting for and keeping good contracts is critical to any Union’s survival and it helps build solidarity amongst the membership. And while we are on the topic…
- Solidarity. Back in the 1980’s I had to look up the definition of this word, as I would see it on television, flying on flags throughout Poland and the rest of Europe and wondered why the heck were all of those people so mad? Well since then, I have come to learn that this word was always the foundation on which Unions, or any group that has a common interest, is built on. And although I seldom use the word, we practice solidarity every day, all day. Working closely together with other Union entities, such as UFCW Locals, other industry locals, central labor bodies, etc., and aligning our members with themselves, and those of similar industry Locals are all very powerful forms of solidarity. We have reported on many occasions how we worked together with Locals 338 and 342 to accomplish what we have needed to, and we will continue to do so. I have personally been there when company officials did not expect our three Locals to walk into a meeting together. Trust me it is a game changer. It immediately shifts the conversation to the advantage of our collective memberships, and we strive to do it every chance we get. It’s a tried-and-true fact: when people stick together, they are able to accomplish so much more than the alternative. And when Unions stand together, whether it be two or three Locals in New York, or the entire Northeast of Region One on the same fight, we are able to achieve great things for you. In his spare time (insert laughing emoji here), President Newell is also the Secretary-Treasurer of the New York/New Jersey District Council, which is a body of UFCW/RWDSU Unions based out of either of these two states. Rob’s work there has brought Local 1500 into an even closer relationship with all of our neighboring Locals and helps us all deliver a unified message to the same employers that operate in in different regions. Solidarity is something that is just in our blood. And if we do not effectively practice it, we will make all of our lives that much harder.
- Fiscal Conservancy. Let’s face it…if we do not properly manage the assets that we have, we will find ourselves in a disadvantageous situation. Whether we are talking about membership fees that fund our daily operation, welfare fund contributions which fund your health benefits, legal service plan contributions, which have proven to be a valuable benefit to our membership, or retirement fund contributions, which as most of you know, go to fund your retirement plans, we must make sure we are doing the right thing. You’ve heard Rob say for years now, even dating back to when he was Secretary-Treasurer, that we have been doing everything in our power to minimize costs and maximize investments. Now, Secretary-Treasurer Aly Waddy oversees your Union’s finances, and she has continued that commitment to making Local 1500 runs as efficiently as possible. We have renegotiated and restructured many of our in-house vendor contracts to get more out of what we are paying for. Everything from copier leases to vehicle leases and insurance, to how much we pay for coffee when members visit has been addressed over the past five years. We have left no stone unturned when seeking out how to keep the treasury in the best shape possible. We have made major modifications to the way we invest money, in order to realize the largest gains possible. We have a very healthy welfare fund, which we monitor on a weekly basis. Our Legal Services department has been seeing more usage than ever before, and we are beefing it up even more with additional contributions in the near future. Our Annuity Fund is growing month by month, and our Pension Fund is back in the ‘Green Zone’. Of course, without diligent upkeep and progressive, wise decision making, all of this would be a different story. What’s the alternative? Maybe we cannot hire enough representatives to service our great membership effectively and properly? Maybe we would have to negatively adjust medical benefits for folks? Or reduce or eliminate peoples’ retirement benefits? Maybe we would need more contribution money for one of the funds to keep it healthy, so your company winds up paying less in wage increases? These examples are unfortunate, everyday occurrences that all unions face around the country and fiscal conservancy is important to keeping your Union as strong as possible.
When all is said and done, there are probably one hundred points that can be referenced to successfully run a Labor Union. As I mentioned before, depending on your opinion, there may not be one point that is more important than the other. What I do know is running our Local is a 24/7/365 event. We work around the clock to make sure the interests and well-being of our great members are upheld. We are constantly in a fight or uncomfortable conversation to ensure you not only keep what you have but improve on it. The leadership of your Local is on a never-ending quest to increase your quality of life, provide you the highest value for your membership, and we will always stand strong for you, not only on these four pillars, but our entire foundation.