Editorial: Union Pride

Pride and Opportunity.  Pride is a word that can have many different meanings depending on who you’re talking to.  It is also a word that varies significantly depending on the topic being discussed.  What do I mean?  A simple example would be how proud we are to be fans of a pro sports team.  For me that’s illustrated in my love for the NY Rangers.  My Ranger pride is easy to see and at times can be rabid.  I show my Rangers pride every day on the clothes I wear, the tattoo on my shoulder, the stickers on my car and even in the pictures displayed in my office.  That pride is unwavering … well … at least … maybe … unless of course they blew the big game last night, drafted poorly or make a dumb trade.  To say that pride can be seen evaporating quickly after a bad season is an understatement.  How many times have you worn your team’s jersey the day after they get knocked out of the playoffs?

If you compare a person’s team pride to the pride they feel for their family or their heritage you will see a vast difference.   Pride in your heritage is rarely, if ever, fleeting or temporary.  Whether your parents are Italian, Irish, Mexican, African or the hundreds of other possibilities, having pride in your heritage is something that starts at birth.  In many ways, our heritage defines us throughout our entire lives.  It defines the type of food we eat, which Holidays we celebrate and sometimes what religion we practice.  Pride in one’s family is also something that rarely wains from day to day.  Words cannot properly express how proud I am to be my daughter’s father.  But let’s be honest here, not every day is a great day to be a parent.  However, I assure you that there isn’t one day where I’m not proud to be her dad.

In today’s social media driven society people’s pride, core beliefs and hobbies are all prominently displayed for the world to see.  I am one of the only people I know that isn’t on social media.  However, I am exposed to hundreds of members Facebook posts, tweets, YouTube video’s and Instagram photos each week because of my job here at the Union.  I am often amazed by what people say and the things they post on social media.  Although I am not someone who willingly participates in the digital world, I have great respect for the people that do. 

A person’s pride is easy to see when looking at their socials.  The things they are proudest of are often shown in their photos, posts, who they follow and what groups they belong to.  I know some people who cannot function in their everyday lives without constantly checking on and/or updating their socials.  I watch, amazed, as people’s fingers fly across their phones like it’s their job.  Post, post, post, reply, reply, reply, tweet, tweet, tweet. 

This social media obsession is something that intrigues me.  Although some topics are constant staples, like family, friends, vacations and food most topics aren’t around that long.  It seems that people’s focus on social media is often distracted by the current “flavor of the month”.  At the Shop Stewards seminar in early May I referred to one of these more recent “flavors” that I just couldn’t understand.  The Facebook obsession with the pending birth of Tajiri, a baby giraffe born in April in upstate New York, was astounding.  Literally MILLIONS of people spent weeks of their lives hour after hour tuned into this event.  Then, like clockwork, something that dominated Facebook for just over a month disappeared in an instant to make way for the next “flavor”.

This event caused me to think more about the allure of social media and although I know very little about it, I was left with few questions.  How much time do people spend every day on their socials?  How much blind faith do people have in the opinions and statements of the strangers that they interact with and follow?  Is there a better way for you to harness the power of your social media accounts to better your life?  What about the lives of all working people?  Do our members feel any pride as members of their Union?

I’d like to extend my Steward challenge to every member of our Union who uses social media.  Are you willing to change how you spend 5% of the time that you ALREADY spend on social media?  How much could you change if you devoted just 3 minutes of every hour you spend posting about your Union?  What if you spent 3 minutes doing a little extra research about the benefits of your Union membership?  What would happen if you started to post daily about the benefits of having a voice on the job?  How many people would see your posts?  What would their reactions be?  Could you make your Union job the next “flavor of the month”?

The facts are that when workers are represented by a Union they make more money.  They also work in safer conditions, have better medical benefits and they normally have some form of retirement security.  So why aren’t more people joining Unions?  Maybe it’s because there just isn’t enough knowledge amongst America’s working families?  Maybe it’s because the biggest non-union companies spend 59 minutes of every hour convincing workers and the public that Unions are self-serving, political machines that only want your dues?  Maybe it’s because we spend more time on social media waiting for the birth of a baby giraffe or reminding people that our team is better than theirs?  In my opinion, it’s a got to be a combination of all these things.

The UFCW International has spent a great deal of time and money studying the trends of the newest workforce in our industry.  Millennials (people born mid 90’s – early 2000’s) do not see things the same way previous generations do.  As a matter of fact, most of them will never see this article, unless we post it on our socials, tweet it or sent it out via mass text.  Unfortunately, the next big problem would be that this article is too long so they would never finish reading it.  But this message is geared more towards the non-millennials in our Union.  If you start using your own social media platforms to spread the right message about unions in general, and especially the value of belonging to our Union they will see that message.  They will start to get the details and they will seek more information and want to reap those benefits.  Millennials may seem to most older folks like they don’t care about anything or that they have other priorities but research shows that when they engage they are a force to be reckoned.  The most important issue is spreading the message on a platform they relate to and in a manner that they want to receive it.  

The level of pride I feel about being a part of our Union is on par with how I feel about my heritage and my family.  Being a part of this Union is a cornerstone of who I am as a person, a father, a representative and a labor leader.  I know that every one of our members doesn’t feel the same level of Union pride that I do, but the truth is a little bit of pride shown from thousands of people can go a long way.  The premise of many people working together toward a common goal is part of the foundation of the Union movement.

 Our members level of activity on social media creates a fantastic opportunity to better all our working conditions and our lives.  If harnessed and used effectively it could help stop the constant flow of misinformation, complacency and social distractions that exist in your workplaces.  If someone told that you could better your life by redirecting a few minutes of your day, would you listen?  Probably.  What if it was someone you worked next to every day?  What if was someone you’ve worked with your whole career?  I think the answer to those two is yes.  Do you have enough pride in being Union to try and capture this opportunity?  Do you accept the challenge to help strengthen your voice on the job?  I guess we’ll all have to watch social media over the next few months to know for sure…even me.  Have a safe and productive Summer and stay Union Strong!