By: Tony Speelman
The first six months of 2015 were very successful for our union. We turned the tables on our employers by negotiating eight new contracts with no major concessions. Our negotiating teams should be proud. Then came June, and we were notified by A&P they would begin seeking buyers for some of their stores. By mid-July they would ultimately file for their second bankruptcy in five years, leaving 30,000 employees wondering, now what?
I received this message on Facebook in August from a Pathmark member on Long Island, “If it wasn't for the unions we would be outside looking in 8 years ago. Our contracts would've been voided out already.” The old rhetoric, “now more than ever”, is too often used in speeches and columns. However, it holds true for our union right now. Our work and solidarity each day defines our union and the entire labor movement, never forget that. Pathmark members have gone through a tremendous difficulty the last five years, and our union has had their back through it all.
Some of our most difficult fights our union faces are in our Organizing department. More and more non-union chains open in our jurisdiction, such as Mrs. Green’s Natural Market, where our union led an organizing campaign that ultimately resulted in the illegal firing (and eventual rehiring) of seven workers. The company just opened their first New York City location in late August. Our organizing team was there the day of the opening to educate the community on their new neighbor. They have been working hard to help the workers unionize.
But as you know, our most difficult fights are with our own union employers.
Take Key Food, for example. Key Food purchased 17 stores from A&P in the initial round of bidding. We were all relieved, knowing a union employer would make a transition much easier. It hasn’t been. Our union, alongside of Locals 342 and 338, have met with Key Food throughout the summer to discuss the company’s acquisition of 17 A&P stores.
To be blunt, Key Food’s initial proposals were greedy, shortsighted and offensive to all of the hardworking men and women we represent. The company has been insistent in proposing that the new owner has the right to reduce the pay of all employees, the right to reduce your hours and the right to reduce your health coverage at their own discretion.
Together, our unions made it clear to Key Food that we will not accept any of concessionary proposals that would result in diminishing the lifestyles of our members.
Key Food, like most greedy employers, is simply attempting to prey on the membership like they would a wounded animal. They are trying to take advantage of all of the men and women we represent who have already sacrificed more than enough, and who have done nothing but give their hard work and dedication to a poorly managed company.
I write this because it’s not just an issue our Pathmark members are facing, it’s an issue our entire union is facing. The company arrogantly proposed pay and hour cuts would equate to well over $250 per week in lost wages and the difference between a single and family medical plan could be as much as $600 to $700 per month. If that’s not enough, the company also has the nerve to demand our members begin making a weekly contribution into this new inferior healthcare plan.
These terms are unacceptable. That’s one of the challenges our union is faced with each day, and that’s why sticking together isn’t just mindless rhetoric. We need to fight every day to keep what we’ve earned.
The tide is turning. The latest results from the 2015 installment of Gallup’s annual Work and Education survey show that Americans’ approval of labor unions has jumped five percentage points to 58% over the past year, and is now at its highest point since 2008, when 59% approved. Consistent with the recent increase in approval of unions, the percentage of Americans saying they would like labor unions to have more influence in the country has also been rising, and now stands at 37%, up from 25% in 2009. Meanwhile, the percentage wanting unions to have less influence has declined from 42% to 35%. We all have what every worker in our country wants: Respect at work, a voice at work, and protection from greedy corporations like A&P who fill their pockets by preying on workers.
We Survive Together, or Not At All.