Editorial: Moving Forward Together

The UFCW Local 1500 Pension Fund and the coming changes have been on the minds of our leadership team, your Union staff and the thousands of active plan participants (members) for virtually all of 2019. Our Pension Plan’s funding is in the red and changes need to be made to secure all the past benefits earned and to ensure that no matter what we do the plan can meet all its future obligations as well. The Plan Trustees, both Union and management, have been working with professionals from the Segal Company, our International Union and the Pension Fund’s contract professionals throughout the year but haven’t found an acceptable solution yet.

Many of you heard Tony and I say over the course of the last year that we were not in a hurry to make this decision. We felt it was paramount to first investigate all potential avenues and find the best fit for our participants (members), our contributing employers and our Fund. We are not a Local Union that is fond of imposing delays or dealing with long drawn out processes for our members/participants because we recognize the uncertainty and discomfort that it creates for you and your family’s. However, in this case, the long delay yielded a positive result for all plan participants and the contributing employers in 2020. Because the Trustees had yet to adopt a formal rehabilitation plan, we found an option that gave us the ability to protect another full year of accruals for all active participants. Simply stated, that means that 2020 will be the same as the last number of years as far as your pensions go. Each full-time participant will receive $60 and each part-time participant will receive $30 accrual credit should they work the complete year in covered service in 2020. Originally, we were of the impression that the accruals would have to change at the end of 2019 and there was a huge unknown as far as what 2020 would bring.

Additionally, this change will also remove the current 5% surcharge (as of 12/31/19) that each contributing employer has been paying since July 2019 and will avoid a projected 10% surcharge that was scheduled to be applied on 1/1/20. The Employers already have a scheduled 4% increase that they are obligated to pay on 1/1/20 but that is better than paying that increase plus the surcharge. This doesn’t mean that we are out of the woods nor does it mean that a long-term solution has been found. What it does mean is that we all get another year in the pension books the way we are accustomed to. There is still a great deal of work and research to be done before we find the best solution to this problem. But while that work is being done everyone knows what to expect from 2020, at least as far as the Pension Fund is concerned. Let’s not forget that we also have contracts for more than 10,000 of our members expiring throughout 2020, so it is going to be a busy year for many of us.

I am sure that virtually everyone reading this article has already heard that our President, Tony Speelman, stepped down on November 8th, 2019. To say that Tony is a man that never ceases to amaze me is an understatement. Tony and I had been talking for about 8 or 9 months about his future plans and what we needed to do to ensure no disruption for our members. Well, in early October Tony decided it was time to make his plans a little more public to our stewards, members, staff and business partners. Although Tony didn’t give anyone other than me an exact date, he did provide a pretty obvious timeframe to everyone he spoke with. Very shortly after those announcements, Tony came to see me and told me that he had decided to expedite his plans and was stepping down in less than a month. Anyone that knows me knows that I am rarely, if ever, at a loss for words, but I didn’t say anything for what felt like an hour. Although it may have only been a few seconds, what he had just said was unbelievably significant for our Union, for him and for me.

Thankfully Tony was the type of President that always made sure that our Local was ready to take on any challenge and adapt to any change. He always told me that no matter what happens we need to be prepared to do whatever it takes so that it would be business as usual for our members in no more than a day or two. Luckily, for all of us, nothing negative had happened to bring this on. Tony just woke up one morning and made the decision that he didn’t want to wait any longer to make this happen. Tony is a beautifully gigantic personality and he is often seen as family to most people he knows. He knows a great deal more about the people he works with, and for, than they typically know about him. He will listen to you tell your tale for an hour but when it comes time to talk about himself, he’ll do it in two minutes flat. Deep down Tony is a pretty private person, especially when it comes to his own wellbeing, and his mind was made up.

What do you say to the guy that has helped you get where you are today when he tells you that he’s leaving? I can’t tell you all the things I really said to him that morning, but I will tell you that the main focus of it was “Thank you”. Not thank you for teaching me the million things he did, not thank you for literally being like my older brother, not thank you for understanding me when no one else did and not thank you for picking me to succeed him. All those things mattered to me, VERY MUCH. But none of them mattered more than thanking him for his tireless dedication to our members, for his unmatched patience in every circumstance we faced, for his unbreakable grip on the past history of this Local Union, for his unflappable desire to ALWAYS do what’s right and for always being incredibly humble, especially when in a room as full of egos as the ocean is water. Thank you, Tony, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for being the type of human being, family man, labor leader, confidant and friend that I will always look up to and reach out to for advice. Thank you for trusting me to lead this Local with you for the last few years and thank you for staying on with me for 2020, this transition would not be the same without you. God bless you Tony and I wish you, and your family, nothing but the best that the world has to offer. All the best to the best! Salud!