“The more things change, the more they stay the same”. That is a lyric that has been used many times by musicians throughout the years. Bon Jovi has a song with that title as well. One of the lyrics is “Yesterday keeps comin’ round, it’s just reality. It’s the same damn song with a different melody”. As I sit here, I can’t help but think that lyric sounds a lot like 2021. I know it’s still early, but has 2021 been all that different from 2020, or has the melody just changed a little?
Remember New Year’s Eve when people were saying thank God 2020 is over? Everybody thought 2021 must be a better year! Does turning to the next page of a calendar, or in this case hanging up a new one, really make that much of a difference? Or is it possible that nothing ever REALLY changes, except how we see things, which side of the argument we find ourselves on or what we are willing to do? Remember the Seinfeld episode “The Summer of George”? As funny as it was, I think the point of the episode was no matter what George couldn’t escape the inevitability of who he is or how screwed up his life was. Or maybe he could’ve escaped if he really wanted to. I think the real issue could’ve been that George wouldn’t change, or had given up already, so his life just couldn’t get better. I get that I am referring to a TV show here, but sometimes a life lesson can come from a pretty unusual place, even a silly 90’s sitcom.
What has 2021 shown us so far that’s so different from 2020? Look, Tom Brady may not be a New England Patriot anymore, but he still managed to hold up the Lombardi AND the MVP trophies again in 2021. The only real differences are that this time he did it without Bill Belichick, and while wearing a Buccaneers jersey. The US National elections, and all the legal challenges surrounding them, are finally over and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are our new President and Vice President. But the enormous division in the Country still exists, and the American people show no signs of moving closer together. The only difference in 2021 is it’s not Democrats complaining about the Republicans in power, it’s Republicans complaining about the Democrats in power. For most of us in the Labor movement, the new Biden administration represents a significant upgrade for the future of American workers, but that certainly isn’t how all our members feel about it. So maybe the list of members that are unhappy with the Government had different names on it in 2020, but the fact is there are still thousands of Local 1500 members that are angry about politics in 2021.
I’ll be honest, anytime a government project is named after something from sci-fi show it gives me reason for pause. But the reality is that Covid-19 is still running rampant across the country and access to the vaccines doesn’t resemble what was promised. And now in addition to the Covid strain we already know, we have new strains making their way onto American soil, and the uncertainty has returned for many of you. What do I need to do to ensure a better, safer 2021 for my family? Do I get the vaccine, or don’t I? Can I find an appointment if I decide I want it? I am an essential, customer facing grocery worker, why is it so hard to get an appointment? Can’t the Union get us the vaccine? Like everything else Covid-19 from 2020, you still feel like you are left with more questions than answers about the virus again in 2021. Another line from the Bon Jovi song describes how some of you must be feeling, “You’re either runnin round in circles, or you’re runnin out of time”
We couldn’t and haven’t just sat back and accepted the unanswered questions from the New York State politicians. We cannot and will not continue to support elected officials that don’t support our essential members. We have been working with our allies to get our members access to the vaccine since they were first approved. Although we have always felt that our members were essential, it took a pandemic for most of your customers and many elected officials to see that for themselves.
How can politicians show you that “essential worker” isn’t really just code for “disposable worker”? They could’ve started by making you part of phase 1 of the vaccination roll out as opposed to originally making you wait for phase 2. God knows getting to phase 2 was projected to take months. Thankfully, the Labor movement and our allies were able to get grocery and pharmacy workers moved up to phase 1b. Now for the next issue, I’m eligible so where do I get the shot? Do I get it at work? Nobody was able or willing to answer those questions for way too long. It was starting to look like the early 2020 information blackout was coming back again. However, just like in 2020 we just keep trying finding ways to help you.
I accepted long ago that there is no way to have a 100% approval rating, especially when dealing with over 17,000 members and their opinions about their contracts & benefit plans. Let’s face it, it’s easy for a few members who disagree or don’t understand an answer to express themselves, especially on social media. However, those posts give us the opportunity to clear up the confusion or set the record straight in many cases. I will admit that my favorites are the posts from people that aren’t members anymore or never were, but just want to stir the pot. I guess that’s just the type of world we live in today. Years ago, we would get the occasional anonymous call, voicemail, or the typed angry letter without a signature in response to something we had said or done. That has all given way to the world of email and social media posts now. Although the medium of expression has changed, we will almost certainly always have some members that don’t agree or fully understand a decision or change we have made. But we will continue to be fully transparent and give our members the opportunity to see everything we do.
The Bon Jovi song continues on to say “You’re still you and I’m still me. I didn’t mean to cause a scene. But I guess it’s time to roll up our sleeves.” That line describes what’s been happening since NY moved grocery workers up to 1b. Although it is currently just in Suffolk County, we have begun facilitating a weekly process that gets our members access to the vaccine. So far, we have gotten more than 1,000 of our Suffolk County members vaccinated and we are working with our allies in NYC, Nassau County and Upstate NY to get it going there as well. No matter what happens, we will not stop trying to find ways to get you what you need. And although we don’t always make everything we do a publicity event, you should know that we just keep fighting to provide you a safer environment on the job. God willing, when this is all over, the laundry list of people that claim you are essential today, don’t forget about you, and treat you like your disposable tomorrow. Keep working smart and stay safe!
Robert W. Newell, Jr. - President
The Advocate Spring 2021