There is no question that there is a significant youth movement in America right now. This is not a new phenomenon by any means and has happened multiple times in our history. However, the one thing that seems to remain a constant is how the youth of America seem to be less engaged with their Union. For years most of the Union Representatives I knew and the long-term members that I serviced all said the same thing, “They are just kids. They don’t really care about anything.” For far too long that was the underlying belief and many of our members and staff carried it with them every day on the job.
However, I was one of those “kids”. Some people may argue that I still am but being closer to 50 than 21 makes that argument pretty tough to win in my eyes. As a matter of fact, many of your Union staff started in this industry as “kids” and were engaged throughout their careers in the stores. Some of us, like me, were part-timers who never even made it to a full-time position, while others worked their way up the ladder into department manager positions before coming over to work for your Union staff.
Why did I choose this topic to write about in this issue? Well it’s simple, look at the page to the right of this one and you will see a few of our “kids”. Those are the 2018 Local 1500 Scholarship winners. Congratulations to all of you and good luck next year in college! Now not all of them are members, some are dependents of our members, but they are all “kids”. They don’t care about anything, right? I don’t agree with that assessment, not one bit. In our industry there are literally thousands of young people that keep our stores running. Clearly many of our younger members are using the supermarket industry as a means of making ends meet while they go to school, but that isn’t always the case. Many stay around for decades, get promoted and become the leaders of tomorrow.
Trust me when I tell you that the amount of turnover in your stores is much less than it used to be. The number of young people in your stores is higher now than it has ever been. So, is it true? Do they all not really care about anything? If that was the case turnover would be through the roof and your stores would all literally fall apart. Look around and see how many members under 30 are working in your stores today. Then think about how long they have been working there.
The issue isn’t that they don’t care, the issue is that we all need to learn how to talk differently to them & present the information on a platform that they actually find useful. For those of you out there with children in school, I am sure you can relate. If you think about trying to help your children with their homework, they are all learning the same subjects we did, but VERY differently than we did years before. It’s not a situation where you can just throw your hands up in the air, not care and say forget about them. You must learn how to see things through their eyes, hear things they way they do and find a way to talk to them so that they absorb the information better and can excel.
At some point most of you senior members out there were the “kids” in your store. Somewhere along the way someone spoke with you and showed you the ropes. Someone helped you learn about your contract and explained your benefits to you. Some of you might say, “Yeah it was my Union Representative”, but think about it, that isn’t the answer for most of you. In most cases it was another member or your shop steward who first opened your eyes to the benefits of belonging to Local 1500. That’s what happened to me early in my career. The full-time veg guy in my store grabbed me after about a week on the job and talked to me about the Union. To be fair, he also told me I had to take a urine test (which clearly was a lie) but he was a bit of a clown.
There must be a strong membership core in the stores that takes care of itself and passes along the vital information to the next generation. Without it, the information will just wither away and be forgotten. My first experience with the Union, like many of yours, wasn’t when I met my Union Representative, attended a meeting or saw the dues deduction on my paystub. It was when that produce clerk opened the door to my Union for me. It is vital for our senior members to step up and spread the message, but not just once or twice, EVERY DAY. Whether we want to admit it or not, our Union is only as strong as it’s part-time workforce and the time has come for all of us to engage them.
The leadership and communications staff @ Local 1500 has made better communication with our younger members a number one priority over the last few years. We use Instagram, Facebook (Facebook live for our meetings), Twitter, YouTube, email & text messaging in an effort to communicate better and more often with our younger membership. Many of our membership discounts are benefits that the younger members will appreciate more. We have hired and/or promoted a number of new, young field staff and have them scattered throughout our jurisdiction every day servicing and asking questions. We have increased our scholarship program awards from $500 a semester, to $600 a semester last year and to $750 a semester this year.
The youth of America has historically spoken its mind, fought in support of social causes and been willing to march on Washington, DC to prove their point. That doesn’t sound to me like a group that doesn’t care about anything. Perhaps its high time we all look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we can do differently to engage them, keep them involved and most importantly listen to their ideas and implement some of them. Could you imagine the power this Union could have at the negotiating table if we harnessed the power of the younger membership? The best leaders I have ever had the pleasure of working with asked a lot of questions, listened to the all of the answers and did the things they promised to do. Like every other generation before them, todays youth wants to be heard, and we here at Local 1500 are listening.