Editorial: The Ever Changing Environment

When it comes to negotiating with your Union employers, many years of bargaining history ends up playing an important role at the table.  Your elected committee members try to replicate the strongest deals of the past, while at the same time trying to avoid any that didn’t seem as good.  This may have served as a pretty good negotiating strategy in the past, but times have certainly changed.  When I look at the factors that impact our contract negotiations today I believe that many of our past strategies are more likely a fast track to disaster than a path to salvation.  Let’s face it, these days the world of retail food seems to change twice a day, every day.  Whether it’s the announcement of another major company merger (which often cause divestitures), the influx of new operators into our region or our smaller chains overreaching into areas and store footprints they would normally avoid, it just seems our members are constantly taking on new battles.  With every new challenge that appears, a new list of negotiating difficulties emerges for the hard-working men and women on the sales floor.  The irony is that after decades of opportunities the corporate decision makers still don’t solicit the input of the employees tasked with implementing their new (and sometimes old recycled) plans and ideas.  So, although the faces of the industry may consistently change around us it appears that some things always remain the same.

As we head into bargaining later this year with Stop & Shop, we fully expect to contend with their merger with Delhaize.  Without question Stop & Shop’s recent personnel changes, their new non-union banner, future sales programs and of course their new synergies will be on full display.  I’m sure that our Stop & Shop members are all anxiously awaiting the announcement of the next big “project” that sprouts from this mega-merger.  We already know about and are dealing with their plans to roll out dozens of new express self-scan registers and customer service desks throughout our jurisdiction.  I’m sure that most new ideas that emerge over the next few months won’t be designed to increase our member’s hours or make our lives any easier.

Although the leadership team at King Kullen isn’t big on rolling out dozens of new and exciting ideas to redefine their business, they have unfortunately done more downsizing than growing over the last 7-8 years.  As we move through the 2017 negotiations we can only hope that whatever the final results are, the future holds less store closings and maybe a few new openings for our members working for “America’s First Supermarket”.  Although increased industry competition has made business more difficult on King Kullen lately, the strength of King Kullen has always been you, their employees.  Years of experience, excellent customer service and a dedication to see your company succeed are only a few of the high points our members display daily in these stores.

Even though the issues at Stop & Shop and “The King” are very different they will both certainly create their fair share of new bargaining difficulties later this year.  In addition, we still remain focused on finishing the 4 open Shop Rite contracts that expired in late 2016.  We fully understand that this unusual delay has started to cause some stress among the membership and for that we apologize.  President Speelman, Joe Waddy and the negotiating teams are making every effort to get you a settlement that will better your lives in the future as opposed to worrying about a date on a calendar.  You should know that at the heart of our delays at Shop Rite is the significant increase in the NY State minimum wage.  Unlike many other past legislative hurdles this increase cannot be avoided, nor can it be ignored by your employers.  I for one remember all too vividly listening to hours and hours of employer presentations during past negotiations outlining how the Affordable Care Act was going to single handedly bankrupt the industry.  However, most employers just responded to ACA by reducing part time worker’s hours so that the majority wouldn’t qualify for benefits.  In this case, the amount of the increase is only half of the problem, the speed in which the increases take effect, especially in New York City, is just as big an issue.

Despite these new hurdles, together we must find new ways to be successful at the bargaining table.  You are the reason that your stores are profitable and you deserve the best contract that the industry has to offer.  The days of focusing on the same 2-3 issues are behind us and we will continue to poll you listen to your answers.  Our part timers need more hours, better scheduling consistency and full time opportunities. We need to maintain our Pension’s and Healthcare coverage because your families deserve it.  Guaranteeing a member’s right to work in a safe environment where they are rewarded for doing well and given the benefit of the doubt when they make a mistake is not too much to ask.  Having to be spoken too civilly by ownership or management, especially on the sales floor, cannot just be a surprise on a good day but it must be the rule of the shop every day.  Showing your employees that you care as much about them as you do about your bottom line should be automatic and not something that needs to be negotiated.  This bargaining season is a wakeup call for everyone and significant membership involvement will be necessary to be successful.  To get over today’s hurdles we must all listen to one another, work together to find solutions and demand the respect that your hard work and dedication has earned.  I look forward to negotiating with you in 2017 and plan to be on site at a few polling places to talk with you, review the settlements and answer any questions before you vote.  If we work together there are no puzzles we cannot solve, no bridges we cannot build and nothing that we can’t accomplish.