Earlier this Spring, about 31,000 of your fellow UFCW members went on strike across New England, standing up for themselves, their coworkers, and their families during difficult negotiations with Stop & Shop. Members of five UFCW Locals (328, 371, 919, 1445, and 1459) walked off the job and put on strike signs to show how unhappy they were with their company’s proposals. The time had come to take matters into their own hands. But why did they take such drastic action? I often start my articles by posing a difficult or troubling question to provoke your thoughts on the matter at hand, yes, I actually do this on purpose.
Now I know we can all agree that a strike is not a joyous event and the most people would prefer not to ever have to do it. It’s been said many times, no one really wins when there is a strike. Members lose pay, companies lose profits and the community at large is stuck in the middle. That doesn’t sound beneficial to anyone, right? However, what choice is left for employees when their employer wants to make life more difficult and absolutely refuses to bend? If these workers were not represented by a Union, what would their wage and benefit packages currently look like? Does anyone think that their company would voluntarily maintain a high level of benefits and wages if they didn’t have to? I am sure that there are occasions when an employer may look to cut into their own profits, and share the wealth with the people that work for them, however, in today’s times it’s more about introducing employee-reducing automation, self-service stores, and significant budget crunching, all under the guise of “staying competitive”. More often than not, we find ourselves in a fight just to try and maintain what our membership currently enjoys.
Without your Union, your Company would be free to do whatever it wanted with your entitlements and would certainly act on it. We’ve told you, for example, about non-Union companies arbitrarily deciding to reduce the number of vacations, holidays or sick days that their employees once had. It was one of the factors that helped lead us to a recent organizing victory. Those employees decided to stand up and fight for what they felt was right. So I am not surprised that when Stop & Shop proposed to impose much higher employee contributions for their medical coverage, reduce member’s pensions without much of a raise, and take away their Sunday premiums that the members of the five Unions decided that it was time to stand up and fight. They felt they could not live with the proposed changes to their contract, and I am very proud of them.
What ensued was an 11-day strike, spanning 4 states and tens of thousands of your brothers and sisters. Although a strike was not the goal of our ‘sister’ Unions, the five Locals involved conducted an extremely well-executed job action, gaining incredible social and traditional media coverage as well as worldwide attention. The support from the customers and communities throughout the northeast was of paramount importance, and ultimately helped the Union get the Company get back to the bargaining table, and off of some of their worst positions. To see our UFCW International President Marc Perrone walking to the picket line with Senator Elizabeth Warren, or Former Vice President Joe Biden speaking at a rally in support of the striking members really boosts my belief that we are doing the right thing.
Although a strike is never a good thing, it is the ultimate weapon that Union members have to fight corporations, whether small in size or making multi-billion-dollar profits, such as Stop & Shop’s parent company Ahold-Delhaize. Think about your paycheck and the money your family makes every week. Think about your paid vacation, sick time, and holidays. Think about your family’s healthcare. And think about your retirement…all things that you’ve worked all these years to enjoy. What if you woke up tomorrow and it was all threatened to be reduced or taken away? What would you be willing to do to protect it?
In about 18 months our Stop & Shop members’ contract will expire again and even sooner than that for all of our ShopRite members. You will be in the same fight that we just saw unfold in New England. Those members are you, and you are those members and every day we are in the same fight. And just as when the five Locals up there entered into bargaining a few months ago, when it’s our time again, we will not be looking for a strike…We never do. But what will we all be willing to do if your livelihoods are threatened or at stake? We all need to start thinking about it now.
One thing we know for sure is that we can count not only on the support of the 31,000 New England UFCW members, but also on the support of the entire 1.3 million strong UFCW members across North America to have our backs in 2020, just as we had theirs in 2019.
To the five presidents that stuck together: Tim Melia of Local 328, Tom Wilkinson of Local 371, Mark Espinosa of Local 919, Jeff Bollen of Local 1445, and Tyrone Housey of Local 1459, to all of your respective staffs and especially your membership, thank you for standing up for yourselves and for all working people across America!