I recently had a conversation with a company executive, who told me they were about to outsource several hours every week from their produce departments to non-Union employees in another state. You should probably read that first sentence one more time because it’s very serious. I wish I could say “…and this is just the beginning” …but I’d be lying to you. Your jobs are and have been under attack for years and if we continue to sit back, or stand idly by, your job may just completely disappear, period.
In case you don’t know me, my name is Joe, and this is how I’ve chosen to start my very first periodical article. I have the undeniable pleasure of wearing a couple of hats here at this incredible Union. I’ve been called everything from the Collective Bargaining Representative (btw we have 19 contracts expiring this year), to Recorder, to “ghost-writer” and Executive Vice President. But when it comes to work, the title I’m most proud of is “Local 1500 member” for 32 years and counting. And maybe it’s that last title that’s got me so concerned lately. We are witnessing companies eroding your Union jobs at an alarming rate, and if you listen when they talk, you’ll hear that they have no intention on slowing down.
Look to your left and to your right, and if you work in the produce department, depending on the company you work for, you’re going to see your coworkers a total of ten to fourteen hours fewer this week, next week, and every week thereafter. That’s not a presumption, that’s a fact. But this reduction is not limited to just the produce department. Our brothers and sisters in the meat department have been fighting back pre-packaged meat for decades. Have you supported them? If not, well it’s about time to do so. Have you seen what the front end of your store has turned into over the past few years? Where have all the cashiers gone? The registers are there, but most of our members are gone.
We used to walk or drive to our local supermarket, walk around and pick out our groceries, pay the cashier and then head back home. It was a big part of our lives, and in some ways, it was a very social and occasionally educational event. Now we click a few keys from home and the food arrives at our front door. Awesome isn’t it? Not if your livelihood comes from working IN a supermarket. Perhaps it’s time to think twice about the decisions we, our families, and friends are making when it comes to food shopping.
Let’s take a moment to use some technology to educate ourselves. When you have a couple of minutes, internet search: “Robomart Stop and Shop” and then “Takeoff Technologies Stop & Shop”. Then search “Ocado Kroger”. You can even do it now; I won’t be offended…Seeing more jobs disappearing?
I’ve often come across members that don’t seem to mind, or even “like” when the vendors pack out, do their price changes or clean their shelves. After all, it’s less work for them to do, right? We cannot continue to support that kind of behavior because if we do, we are playing right into management’s “efficiency” hands. Companies are always looking to take advantage of new opportunities for efficiency, but taking jobs away is not efficiency, it’s just wrong.
The same company official mentioned earlier also told us that the move to outsource produce work was to increase efficiency, especially among all the non-Union competition in the area. Our retort was- are you looking to be efficient or competitive? Because if you are looking to compete with other operators, you need to stop cutting the labor to the bone, which in turn makes it almost impossible to fully service the customer. That underserviced customer will in turn, and in many cases already has, taken their business elsewhere. Who really wants to be shopping ‘alone’? You see, if customers have to roam the aisles to find someone other than a robot to help, they will eventually STOP, and SHOP somewhere else.
And if you remove any more cashiers and continue to force all customers to go through self-checkout’s, customers will eventually STOP and SHOP somewhere else. It amazes me that some of the companies that employ you, have found multiple ways to make their customers—into unpaid employees. If you think about it, the customer is actually paying the company to do their own shopping! So, if the customer is ringing up, bagging, and paying for merchandise all by themselves, why does your company need you? Why pay for you to work when the customers can just handle their own merchandise from picking it up, to bagging it and leaving? Tell me again why your company continues to say that they can’t afford to give you raises or benefit improvements year after year? Seems to me they are saving quite a bit of money between their technology efficiencies and offloading labor costs onto their customers. While efficiency is just the excuse for reducing the workforce, it seems some companies are still only concerned with increasing their profits, not lifting up their employees.
This race to efficiency could ultimately lead to a revolution, especially in retail. People will one day stand up and tell corporations that they are not going to allow their good jobs to be stripped away and given to someone who earns a substandard salary and benefit package far away. They will reject the idea that a machine or robot will eventually be upgraded to do most jobs. They will fight situations where they are forced to watch a disrespectful companywide birthday party be thrown for a robot a few weeks after they’ve practically broken their backs to get their company through another successful holiday season. What will the workers be willing to do when they realize that the company they’ve helped build with their own two hands has turned its back on them once again by celebrating a piece of technology geared to replace them?
When and how does this revolution start? When and how does any revolution start? It starts with you talking to each other, to your families, your neighbors and your friends about being cognizant of how the technology they use is negatively affecting your job. It starts with you talking amongst yourselves about your working conditions and how we can work together to improve them. It starts when you stand up and go to your contract proposal meeting to express what you need to take better care of your family. After all, you should reap the benefit of all the money those efficiencies and hour cuts have generated, right? If you’re already talking about these problems, well, then the revolution may have already begun.
It’s time to fight back. If your company continues to have its way, and efficiently automize and outsource your jobs away…Your own future may not include you.
#Contract2020 #2020Vision #WeCanSeeWhatYouAreDoing #MyUnionHasValue
Joseph D. Waddy - Executive Vice President/Recorder
The Register Spring 2020