Editorial: Times Are Changing

Change is a natural part of everyday life.  A simple example would be what typically happens when you get a new store manager.  Many times, a new manager comes to your shop and without explanation or warning he/she just starts changing days off or implementing late nights without out even giving you the courtesy of a conversation.  Now, without much time you’re left to scramble and figure out your life.  You may have to cancel doctor’s appointments, arrange for child care or even call out to your second job.  However, as crazy as this change has just made your life many of you won’t call your Union Rep or even speak with the store’s shop steward. 

Your Representatives are well versed in handling the multitude of problems brought on by the daily changes in your stores and they are there to assist you.  Unfortunately, too many members don’t know enough to exercise their rights.  They just accept whatever life, or their manager, throws at them.  Maybe you accept these changes because you don’t know what your rights are?  Maybe you’re afraid to challenge what you think is the managers authority?  Perhaps it’s because you know someone else who had the same problem and nothing happened for them?  I’d imagine that all those things have rung true at one point or another for many of you.

I’m not saying that our Reps have a magic potion or the perfect solution to every issue brought to their attention but the policy of your Union is to try and positively impact the lives of every member.  As your representatives, we have the right to sit and discuss any situation that is creating a hardship for our members with management.  In extreme circumstances, we have filed arbitrations when a fair resolution cannot be worked out.  Truthfully, there are more scenarios where a better, more productive solution is worked out in a Union meeting than not.  Calling your representative, exercising your rights and sitting down with management to resolve your issue is a HUGE benefit.  As a matter of fact, it is one that most retail workers can’t even imagine having.  Unfortunately, in many of our shops this benefit is overlooked and underutilized by our members.  Our goal is to return every call, email or social media inquiry within 24 hours and I’m happy to report that in many cases our response time is within the first 1-2 hours after contact.

Typically, one of the first items non-union workers discuss with our organizers in any campaign is the need to be represented.  These workers would love to have a voice in their workplace.  The ability to have an experienced advocate speak for them when management calls them into the office to interrogate them is immeasurable.  Although there are normally changes whenever we negotiate a new contract, one of the cornerstones of every Local 1500 contract is a member’s right to be represented.  To have your Union Representative grieve a workplace issue or be present when you are being questioned isn’t something that one could easily put a dollar value on.  Sadly, I think for some members it probably falls more under the category of “I don’t even really need that” … Until the day you do.

 For far too long our members voices seem to have been getting quieter and quieter in the stores.  Well times are changing, especially in retail job sector.  You all know better than I about the constant push to eliminate jobs, cut hours and find a way for technology to reduce cost.  The employees at Whole Foods, a giant non-union operator, are now facing an uncertain future with the expected technology implementations that Amazon will bring to their merger.  One of the first criticisms that Amazon had for Whole Foods management was that they had spent too much money on their Labor force.  I don’t envy the inevitable future that the Whole Foods employees are facing.

What separates our members from the Whole Foods workers, or any non-union workers out there, is our collective ability to stand up and declare “No More” or “We have had ENOUGH”.  This couldn’t have been better illustrated than it was by the crowd at the Mannix Shop Rite Contract Update meeting in June.  Approximately 30% of the Mannix workforce came out and voted to give their negotiating committee strike authorization.  A very similar situation also happened the night before at the Glass Gardens Shop Rite meeting.  These members finally stopped accepting the changes being pushed across the table by their employers, stood up with their Union and declared “Enough is Enough!”  This was a significant change for our Union and these members.  This was the first time that these two Companies were ever forced to take a strike vote and they didn’t blink.  This change in our members behavior caused a change in the behavior of their employers.  I’m very proud to report that shortly after those meetings strong contract settlements were reached across the bargaining table and they were overwhelmingly approved by membership votes

I think we all accept the fact that change is inevitable.  But the challenge for the future is in trying to initiate positive changes on the job.  Having the strength to stand up and exercise your right to contact the Union and be represented when a negative or unfair change is thrust in your direction.  If there is going to be unrest or disruption why should it be in your life?

In conclusion, I do need to point out that sometimes, unfortunately, tough change is unavoidable. It is with a big smile but a heavy heart that we are forced to say good bye and good luck this month to another of our senior office staff here at Frank Meehan Hall, Executive Secretary, Gloria Benton-Williams.  Glo, I hope you bring as much happiness to your retirement as you brought us every day that you came to work.  Your infectious giggle, hearty soul and enormous smile can never be replaced!  Good luck, stay healthy and God Bless you and Dion, enjoy!