It seems as if the world is getting back to normal. But what does that really mean? Will things ever be “normal” again? What we have seen over the past eighteen months would seem to constitute not only a new normal, but a new environment, wouldn’t it? We all have become more cognizant of our surroundings in efforts to protect the health of our families, right?
But what we have also seen developing is an environment that now has workers acutely more aware of their working conditions. It is becoming more apparent every day that workers want to claim their workplace, and especially their working conditions. They want to see better improvements and protections, not only at the job, but from the job.
Supermarket and other retail workers have always been challenged with the notion that there is lower to no skill needed to perform their jobs. That is an untruth that has recently been exposed to many people outside of our industry. It is unfortunate that it took a pandemic and the loss of life to bring these facts to the forefront. Nothing happens in our communities without the skills that essential workers possess, and it is time that society recognizes the hard work and sacrifice those essential workers just like our members have done not only in 2020 and 2021 but have always done and will always be expected to do.
Now it may be an entertaining process to watch the presidential or mayoral races, but some of the topics that are argued back and forth between the sides pertain to you and have an impact on your lives. Some positive and some negative. We want to work as partners with our elected officials to achieve the best outcomes for our members and our communities, but in some cases the decisions that are made can have an adverse effect on our members. “Leveling the playing field” is a term that is often used, however, if by leveling it they mean bringing down labor standards that we have fought to achieve, then we all need to reexamine what they are doing. We are all for leveling the playing field, but not for lowering it. Accomplishments such as quickly and dramatically raising the minimum wage creates what is called wage compression, which is problematic for some, whose salaries now fall at, or just above minimum wage. That problem and solution was not considered when the law was being drafted. Another phrase that is often used in our world is “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Unfortunately, this does not apply to all of our members when we speak about raising the minimum wage.
Other topics that are discussed amongst candidates that affect you are retirement security, healthcare security, and job security…all of which Local 1500 has always fought hard to protect for you. Unions have multiple layers of protections for their members, but we need to hold our elected officials accountable to fight for the same. If your jobs are the foundations of your respective communities, you need to be respected as such. You are called heroes and essential, yet, for example, your Union had to fight to get you included on the vaccination roll-out list. That does not make sense. Why is that? Again, it boils down to accountability.
Have you ever looked up the meaning of “essential”? Here are some words that come up: “absolutely necessary; crucial; key; vital; indispensable; needed; required.” To all of the essential workers out there… you show up to work at times when no one else can…or will. People need to respect that. When there is an impending blizzard or hurricane, everyone else runs to you for the services you provide. People need to realize that it has always been like that. However, it seems when the time comes to properly show you the respect you deserve, there is difficulty. Whether from elected officials or even your business owners, there seems to be a struggle to make it clear that essential workers should come first and not last. We will continue the fight.
Local 1500 led the charge in pandemic protections, whether it was fighting for legislation to protect essential workers or working with our company officials to secure pandemic leave and install plexiglass barriers, or working with local elected officials to secure masks, hand sanitizer, and other forms of PPE for our membership when there were none to be found, we did it. There were many workplaces that remained open during the pandemic state-wide shut down, where employees were uncertain of what they would encounter when they went to work. Uncertain of where they could get their hands on life-protecting PPE. Uncertain if they would keep their job if they or a family member got sick. Uncertain to stand up and voice their concerns about their own lives.
Imagine a world where we did not have these uncertainties? Where the very people that are crucial or vital to their communities did not have to worry about their safety at work; where they also did not have to worry about what their salary will be in the next five years; where people who are absolutely necessary to moving our economy didn’t have to worry about having a better future for their families or worry about their retirement? That world actually exists. That world is possible if workers had a Union, and in fact we have been seeing a shift toward workers realizing that the time to be recognized is now.
It is for these reasons and more, that we have recently seen workers turn to unionizing their workplaces. Earlier this Spring, the employees of the Foragers Markets in both Chelsea, Manhattan and Dumbo, Brooklyn voted unanimously to be represented by Local 1500. They want the respect and protections that we have been able to consistently bring to thousands of workers in the Tri-State area. With them are the employees of the Monfefo organic juice company, who are also taking steps toward a better workplace. Congratulations to all of these workers for standing up, standing strong, and standing together, and we proudly welcome you to our Local 1500 family!
Local 1500 will continue to fight for the rights, dignity, and respect of all workers who need it. We are committed to establishing an environment where our membership is included in the decision-making processes that take place, whether at your company or your local, city, or state levels.
Aly Y. Waddy – Secretary Treasurer
The Advocate, Summer 2021