Editorial: Reopening Safely And Wisely

As Summer approaches and Covid positivity rates have dropped to record-lows, we are all faced with re-opening. Re-opening can take on many different meanings depending on who you talk to. For our members it means the State and CDC’s removal of the mask mandates for vaccinated folks and eliminating capacity limitations that have been in place for over a year. This news brought mixed feelings for many people, including me. On one hand, there is a desire to get back to pre-Covid normalcy but on the other the concern about ensuring everyone’s safety. I have said since the pandemic began that recognizing and accepting “the end” was going to be a very difficult process. See when it rains and you walk outside, you get wet. When you smell something awful and enough wind blows, or time passes, the smell dissipates. When you’re thirsty and you take a drink, you’re refreshed. A little more simply, when you lose 4 games in the NHL playoffs, your season is over. But how or when do you really know that a public health crisis is over? When you can’t see, touch, smell, hear or taste the virus how does you know when it’s over?

That level of uncertainty can often lead to more questions than answers. When that happens, people’s individual opinions, faith, or belief tends to take over. The reality that many of us live in today is one that says if your opinion is different than mine, you’re wrong. Mask wearing, like the entire pandemic, became a very politically charged topic almost immediately. That’s where being the representative for over 17,000 opinions and their families became difficult. At no point during this crisis have we allowed our focus to be on anything other than keeping our members safe in the workplace. To do that we listened to the same guidance that many of you did, except we always tried to push the envelope a little further to provide an extra level of safety, even when it annoyed some of you.

In our positions, it’s not about being everyone’s favorite or wasting time trying to find a way to shove a banana through the eye of a needle. We must focus on the best information we have on hand at the time and try to adapt quickly and intelligently to ensure you are safer today than they were yesterday. This recent change of guidance gave many people relief from wearing that dreadful mask that you have been forced to wear for over a year. Unfortunately, it also left us with a few degrees of pause. Is it really time? Are enough people vaccinated to make this decision a safe one for our membership? The answer is I don’t know and like many other moments during the pandemic we are thinking with more caution to be as safe as possible. We have asked your Employers not to relax the mask mandates wherever possible, and to continue to require customers and vendors to wear masks in your stores. Some of your employers will take different actions than others, but I assure you that we are working with all of them to find the best solutions. This will not be a one size fit’s all scenario that’s for sure.

There is no doubt that our position is annoying some of you. But to other members it’s the right move to make. As your representatives we will always lean towards the side of extra protection. We also can’t bend or bow to an unhappy public, no matter how many anonymous emails, letters, or social media posts we receive complaining about it. I don’t apologize for who we are or what we stand for. I am proud to stand up for our members, I’ve been doing it for over 30 years. We will continue to take every precaution, popular or not, to protect our members while on the job.

It wasn’t that long ago when the CDC thought that masks wouldn’t help keep anyone safe, boy did that change. After all you have been through, taking a little extra time to see this crisis safely through to the end seems more than appropriate. I don’t, and will not, comment about what you do when you are away from the job, or your vaccination status, that is 100% up to you. But while you’re in your shops, our job is to protect you the best way we can, and that is exactly what we are going to do. As far as the public goes, if you don’t want to wear a mask around our members, whether you’re vaccinated or not, abide by social distancing rules and consider using the multitudes of online and click and collect options that our members and Employers currently provide you. Keep shopping but don’t forget, or ever take for granted, the group of workers that kept your families fed for the last year plus!

As far as the Union staff goes, like you, we never stopped working throughout the pandemic. As a matter of fact, we have added a bunch of new staff, re-vamped the Pension department, won 2 Union Supermarket elections in NYC, and we may have another few victories in manufacturing coming our way as well. Our Membership Servicing Representative program is now a 3-person operation (we are still looking for a 4th member) and we’ve also hired and promoted new Union Representatives. We have started a new staff team here called the SOLAR squad (stay tuned for more details about that). And we are finally announcing plans to re-open the Union Office to in person events. If everything stays on the path it is now, we will begin our re-opening by bringing our Executive Board back in September, our Retiree clubs back in October and having our first in person General Membership Meeting in December. I know this may seem like a long way off to some of you, but we feel it is the most prudent schedule to follow to ensure everyone’s safety.

In closing I want to say thank you and congratulations to all our 2021 Scholarship Winners. This was an amazing year for your member Scholarship program, and we look forward to continuing to build on it in the future. Remember to watch out for the school supply/backpack giveaway posts on our social media, and please try to participate in the multitude of fundraising events we currently have, or will have, going on out there. As always, I thank you for the honor of being your President and want to wish you all a great and happy Summer. Stay safe out there and remember MyUnionHasValue!

Robert W. Newell, Jr. – President

The Advocate Summer 2020