Editorial: Fighting The Battle For Middle Ground

With the Holiday season already in full swing I am sure that most of you are working your tails off just trying to keep up with everyday life.  The added pressures of extra holiday shoppers in your stores, your own holiday obligations, combined with shorter daylight hours can be a lot for you to tolerate.  Thankfully our members don’t have the added hurdles of not knowing whether or not they will be on next week’s schedule, or if they will have to pay an enormous increase in their healthcare premiums next year.  Many of us know people, even family members, whose employers have either reduced the level of health insurance they offer to control costs or increased the employee premiums so much that folks are forced to choose a lower plan just to keep it affordable.  Unlike so many other workers out there, our members also have the peace of knowing how much, and when their next wage increases will be.  There are a great many pluses that come with your Union membership card.

In addition to the services you see from us on the shop floor, you should also know that your Union team is also always on the lookout for, and lobbying against, anti-worker or harmful legislation that could negatively impact you.  Our Union’s relationships with elected officials go a long way toward protecting your contracts and all that is in them.  Unfortunately, far too many people think that the Union only supports democrats, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  As your representatives we make it our business to always support pro-worker candidates, who will make our members their priority, regardless of their party affiliation.  There are just as many extreme democrats that pose a threat to your contracts and working conditions as there are extreme republicans.  This year, even more so than last, has shown a greater indifference from some of your elected officials, especially at the Local and State levels.

It seems to me that Politics should be like collective bargaining.  Two sides working together on the issue at hand trying to find that middle ground that everyone can live with.  Today some typically pro-worker politicians are so focused on building a legacy that they spend their days trying to find ways to legislate parts of your contract, so that all workers, not just union workers, will have the same benefits and protections that you do.  Your contracts are very complex documents, and there are many different levels of costs associated with each article.  A bill to increase the NYS minimum wage to $20 an hour for all workers sounds great, doesn’t it?  How about providing all NYC workers just cause protections from being fired?  Maybe on the surface they sound like they make sense.  But there is also potential for a negative impact on you, working for a Union employer.  It shouldn’t just always be about increasing the benefits for folks working non-union. 

Did you ever think about the direct correlation between how long it takes a new hire in your store to get to time and a half on Sunday and the recent increases in minimum wage?  What about the impact that a fast-rising minimum wage has had on the number of shifts your Employer can afford to schedule on a Sunday or a Holiday?  How about the influx of new technology that slowly replaces or significantly reduces the number of scheduled hours in your department?  How many cashiers have been replaced by self-scan registers in your stores?  How much fresh meat is being cut in the back of the store vs what comes in pre-packaged?  How much real baking is still going on in your bakery?  No matter how much good legislation like this is supposed to cause, it almost always seems to have a negative impact on those of us with a Union contract.  Elected officials who keep raising the cost of doing business for your employers have a direct impact on you, your families, and the strength of your contracts.  Imposing these types of cost increases blindly on retail employers, especially supermarkets, promotes consolidation in the trading area, the closing of marginal stores and price increases for their customers.  It’s arrogance to think that all the employers can just “afford to pay it”.  If this keeps up a dozen eggs will eventually be $20.  

Remember that in a non-union environment, even though the legislation also applies to them, there aren’t the same levels of employee paid time off, rates of pay, quality health insurance, holiday premiums, bonuses, retirement benefits, and Sunday pay that you enjoy.  The cost of doing business is higher for your employers because of your contract, and you deserve it!  For decades if you wanted most, if not all, of those benefits I mentioned, especially in retail food or food production, you had to join a Union to get them.  These benefits helped Unions like ours organize and keep the Union density in the area high and competition among employers balanced.  Legislation that doesn’t recognize and give credit to your employers for agreeing to provide the literal cornucopia of additional benefits, and earnings, found in your contracts is not only unfair, but it also undermines all that we have fought to accomplish for generations.  It will just cause your employers to seek out additional ways to cut costs or eliminate jobs to make up the difference.

Please don’t misunderstand my message; I am by no means carrying the water for your employers.  Many of our employers, especially the independently owned ones, are quite wealthy.  This is not about them, it’s about YOU.  But I simply cannot and will not, in good conscience stand idly by and watch elected officials try to legislate some of the most important parts of your contracts away without making sure they know the real consequences and impact they have on our members.  What will it take to get them to listen?  Do 25% of the supermarkets in an area have to close or thousands of jobs must be lost or replaced by technology to get our elected officials to understand that continuing to increase operating costs on your employers hurts you?  Newsflash, that has already happened in some areas.  Were the Pathmark (A&P) and Fairway bankruptcy liquidations not enough of a warning shot to all of us that the supermarket industry is far from bulletproof?  How many jobs were lost?  How many of those stores are still dark?  How many of those stores are no longer food stores?  How many of those stores are still operating non-union and slowly lowering the working standards of the trading area?  This is why we stay so vigilant in our efforts to represent you, even while far away from the shop floor.  How about this, tell your elected officials, if they want to help workers, clear the path to joining a union.  How about supporting card check legislation, or outlawing employer captive audience meetings that cause organizing campaigns to fail everyday across America?  Those would help workers join Unions and give us the ability to do what we do best, on a larger scale.  So please don’t be so fast to judge why your Union supports some candidates and not others, because I assure you it is far from being just a party line issue.  For a guy that hates politics as much as I do, I can’t seem to get away from it for too long.

As usual, I spent most of my final article of the year whaling away on a serious topic, one that really boils my guts.  Now to shoot for a smooth transition into my holiday message.  When the air gets crisper and the days get shorter, we are here for you.  Whether it is the first month of your new contract or the last month of your old contract, we are here for you.  Whether you actively participate with your Union or not, we are here for you.  Whether you have been here 35 years or 35 mins, we are here for you.  The staff at Local 1500 will never take our responsibility and dedication to represent you lightly, and in every case, we are here for you.  You have put your trust in us and we will do whatever it takes not to let you down.  Please be careful, and take care of each other, now more than ever.  The Holidays can be filled with happiness and joy for some, but with unseen pressure and obligation for others.  We are here for you, to laugh and smile, to help you find solutions, to get you answers, to provide assistance, to listen, or to make sure you have access to help during a difficult time.  The world is a better place when we take the time to care for one another, the power that togetherness can bring is immeasurable.  From my family to you and yours, I wish you the happiest and healthiest of Holiday seasons and I guarantee you, we are here for you.  See you in 2023!  #MyUnionHasValue