I’ve heard it said a hundred times – “Unions are a thing of the past.” And if you solely look at the Union membership numbers over the decades, that seems like a true statement. But if you just accept what you hear at ear value, you make that a true statement. What I mean is, if you hear that unions are disappearing and just pass that information on to the next person, without doing anything about it, you are actually contributing to the demise of unions.
I know that may be hard to hear and read, but let’s think about it for a while. And I know some of you may be asking “What can I do about that, anyway, isn’t that just history?” But that, my friends, is where you may not be seeing the picture clearly. You are history, and since you are history, then you can change history. And if you can change history, then you can obviously make history.
President Newell has always reminded people that he started in our industry as a part time cart clerk. Steve Gallagher, a long-time member, and Local 1500 vice president at the time, encouraged him to get involved with his Union early on, and yes, the rest is history. However, there is a lot of work that goes into becoming involved in the labor movement. What Mr. Gallagher did back then, is what we all need to do now… get someone new involved in your Union.
What happens at your job when someone retires? Other than them becoming extremely happy with their new daily routines, back at the job they are replaced. But how are replacements chosen? In the most successful examples, there are people who have learned or have been trained along the way to effectively do the job of the person who was approaching retirement. So, in an ideal situation, the transition from the outgoing employee to the incoming one is seamless. And in some cases, the incoming person has developed a passion for the job and excels at it, even better than their predecessor.
With Union membership, it’s the same principle – inform the younger-tenured members about the benefits of belonging to your Union, so our strength is passed on, year after year. If done effectively, we WILL find our future generations of leaders that will carry on this fight.
Unions are not so much disappearing - as we have not been properly training the future labor warriors to carry on the movement.
The future of Unions is in your hands, it’s that simple. But where do you start? That’s easy…start by talking to your Shop Steward. Ask them what you can do to get involved or get others involved. Talk to your Union Representative. There are a host of activities that you can point members to, so they can begin to participate. Something as simple as helping out on one of our fundraisers can spark a relationship between them and their Union. We are always looking for members, especially part-timers to join us on negotiating committees. What better way to become actively involved than to represent your peers at the bargaining table? Maybe helping us out on a ratification vote, or an organizing drive? We must continue to build and replenish the pool of strong Local 1500 members, and it really is up to you to help cultivate them.
More food for thought…and again, very similar to your jobs, but when an executive at the Union retires, typically they are replaced by a more senior-tenured Union staffer. But that experienced, promoted staffer has now left a void in the department they were promoted from. So, what happens next? Their former position needs to be filled – and where do we find that person? Of course, we first go to another staff member to look for that replacement. And then what? Well, we go to our pool of strongest, or most actively involved members, to search for a replacement to join our staff and fill that void. In the past we have chosen people from our executive board or shop stewards, to apply for the opening. But think about what then happens? That executive board member or shop steward also now leaves a void in the position they most recently held, and we have one fewer strong member working in the stores. If we have the opportunity to hire a shop steward to work on staff with us, then we need to replace that shop steward in the store. So, Stewards, you should always be identifying coworkers that can help you, and even take up your mantle if you move on from your position at the store. And so on.
I know I went on a little bit with that last series of examples, but it is important to illustrate to you that as someone retires, there is a long chain of events that must happen if we want to keep the interests of our members and the strength of their Union from slipping away. And that is just to keep the labor movement at status quo. We want to reverse the diminishing numbers, so we should all realize the need to double our efforts.
Unions are not made up of magical people from fairytale places that we’ve once read about in a book or watched in a movie. We are simply a group of people that are willing to fight for something better out of our jobs, period. If you can get someone to sign onto that, then there you go, you can be a leader.
We must make sure that every step along the way, we continue to motivate people to get involved. It is necessary for the existence of our Union. At Local 1500, we are always thinking about and planning for today, tomorrow, and especially long term. If we are not searching out and identifying the next generation of leaders now, we are all doing the future of the labor movement a disservice.
But, if we accomplish successfully mentoring our fellow members, just imagine those very special people we will come across that will develop a strong passion for fighting for people. And imagine if they develop a desire to do things even better than their predecessors? By making future powerful labor leaders, we can change the direction of labor unions, and we can in fact make history. It all starts with you.