I became a member of Local 1500 when I was sixteen years old. I will admit, at the time I was hired, I was not sure what a Union was, or what would be expected of me as a member. Shortly into my tenure, I received my first wage increase and I asked how long it was between raises, and who decided how much they would be. My questions were answered after I was given a copy of the contract, and it was then that I also started to realize other benefits of belonging to a Union. Many of you have heard my story before—part time for five years, then full time for five more years, then coming to work on the Union staff. Along the way, as a grocery clerk, I would help unload trailer loads of merchandise that would arrive at least twice each week, too many times unloading a full trailer by myself. I distinctly remember waiting for the receiving door to roll-up with anticipation of viewing the number on the back of the truck, then remarking sometimes “oh good this one’s only 53 feet long!” We would break the pallets down onto U-boats, then go pack it all out as fast as humanly possible. Sometimes even faster than that. All the while stopping to help customers get other product, doing price checks or helping them to their cars. Before the day ended, we had to level down every aisle before sweeping and moping the entire store. We called this entire process…Monday. I did it over and over again for years, happy that I was doing my part to keep families fed and their homes fully stocked. It was important to me because I always felt my job was necessary. I developed a deep respect for what I had to do, my coworkers, and especially all of the benefits this Union provided me. That is some of my story. I can say that I have always been a proud member of Local 1500.
I have carried that pride with me as a staff member of Local 1500, never forgetting how hard it was to work in the stores. I feel that my history has made it easier for me to understand and represent our membership. Then along came the Coronavirus. And my respect for the working men and women of Local 1500 has risen to an immeasurable level. I am so proud of each one of you for getting up, out, and literally facing this health crisis every day. As hard as I try, I cannot imagine what this pandemic would be like if we did not have you to depend on. Without your strength and courage, supermarkets would be forced to shut down, and millions of New Yorkers would not have access to the items that fulfill everyone’s most basic needs. We know it has not been easy by any stretch of the imagination, but showing up to work every day wearing a mask, a face shield (or both), gloves, standing behind a plexiglass barrier, attempting to socially distance from customers and coworkers, is very much appreciated.
You’ve recently been labeled “essential workers” but most people don’t think about what you’ve had to go through just to make it home each day. I’ll speak in the present tense, because I want to memorialize what you’re doing right now, to be remembered long after the rest of the world attempts to return to normalcy: While much of the world is safe at home, you are on the road, or enduring public transportation day and night. You show up to work in the only retail establishments open for business, which means every, last person who needs anything, heads to your workplace. You endure an endless stream of customers, not knowing which one or ones could expose you to the virus. Then your risk increases when you go home each night and, in many cases, you cannot even be as close to your family as you want for fear of spreading the virus. Has anyone given thought to how and what you must do with your clothes every night? How you need to do laundry at an alarming rate to ensure your home stays virus free? Are you in your basement or at the laundromat at midnight? What is the added financial burden of doing that? Then up and out all over again the next day? What do customers do when they get back home from shopping? They sanitize themselves because they took a quick trip to the grocery store. But can people imagine what it is like to be on the other side? How does it feel to be the employee that stands inside the grocery store for hours while thousands of people come at YOU for help? I am very confident that most people who have not ever worked in a grocery store would not be able to endure for a single shift what you have had the courage to withstand for the past 3 months. I have never been prouder to come from the supermarket industry, and I have never been prouder to be a member of Local 1500.
We have always fought to provide the best lifestyle possible for our membership. At times it is very difficult to properly illustrate to your Employers just how much value you bring to the company. We have faced it in contract bargaining for years. As we move on in the future, it will be our undying goal to ensure you are never again taken for granted. Not during COVID-19, and especially not after COVID-19. We will never forget the sacrifices you make for all of us to keep our families fed and our homes stocked. From our family to you and yours, THANK YOU!
Joseph D. Waddy - Executive Vice President/Recorder
The Register Summer 2020