By: Tony Speelman
Secretary-Treasurer UFCW Local 1500
As I write this, we have been negotiating with Stop & Shop and King Kullen for over of three months. We have signed extensions with both companies that renew the collective bargaining agreements each month. Fairway Market’s contract expires at the end of this month. Over half of our 23,000 members are working at these three companies. That’s why these negotiations are so important.
At Stop & Shop and King Kullen negotiations, company officials have argued they cannot continue to pay the necessary yearly contribution increases to maintain the members current levels of benefits. This is simply unacceptable. Currently we are still at odds over future contributions to both the Pension and Welfare funds. Having the necessary contributions from your employers is the only way to avoid making more undesirable changes to your Pension Fund or Health Benefits.
Be assured, your Union Trustees have been, and will continue to demand that employers pay the appropriate level of contributions necessary to responsibly maintain your benefit plans. We know what they can and cannot afford. Some of the negotiation tactics and financial claims company officials have made during negotiations are not factual.
A new era at Fairway has begun. Jack Murphy has taken over as CEO of the company and it will be our union’s first negotiations with his new team. Our Fairway members are growing every year, and they are truly like no other market. However, with a new era beginning at Fairway, our members must mobilize and display solidarity throughout the negotiation process. Early in February the company canceled a negotiation session for no apparent reason, this made me raise an eyebrow that things are going to be much different this time around. My message to Fairway members: This is an opportunity to show your strength to the new management. To prove you are like no other market. To prove that we will protect our benefits.
The collective bargaining tone in our country has changed. More and more governors are targeting labor unions by endorsing “right to work” laws, and blaming union members for state financial shortcomings. Joining the ranks of Republican governors taking aim at the power of labor unions, the new chief executive of Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner, said on that the state should ban some political contributions by public employee unions and allow local “right to work” laws. This is a common trend mounting in our country that we all need to pay close attention to. Even more so, we need to fight back against this to protect our collective bargaining power. Right to work laws simply hand the power we hold and sometimes take for granted back to management. That’s why we all need to continue educate new union members and fight back when management wants givebacks in our collective bargaining agreements.
With the emergence of “right to work” laws and anti-worker legislation, it’s almost funny to hear what proponents of ant-worker legislation think about our benefits. Some claim we don’t deserve pensions and to plan our retirement. And some that flat out disgust me claim that retail and ‘low-wage’ workers don’t ‘deserve’ paid sick days. These ideals are what holds our country behind. For instance; The United States, Papua New Guinea and Oman are the only countries in the world that don’t guarantee paid sick leave for workers. Currently, nearly 40 million Americans don’t have access to paid sick leave, and many are in low-wage and part-time jobs. Less than a third of workers that earn $19,000 or less per year have access to paid sick leave, compared to more than 80 percent of workers who make $65,000 or more per year.
I’m proud to negotiate paid sick time for our union, and I don’t take this for granted at all. As a young man growing up I can recount many times I had to go into work sick. It wasn’t until I began working a union job at Dairy Barn when I was able to receive a benefit of paid sick days. I bring this up as an example of a benefit our union provides that enhances your quality of life. I don’t overlook this benefit because I often speak with non-union workers through our Organizing Department. Many things they seek are quality of life issues, such as paid sick days and paid time off. By standing strong, not buying into company propaganda, and standing united, we will defend our benefits and earn industry standard agreements this year.
I’d like to personally invite you to an Emergency Blood Drive we’ll be hosting at our Union Hall on March 24th from 2-8 PM. Donating blood is a community service I hold very close to my heart, if you are free that day and want to contribute, please RSVP by speaking to your Rep. or online at ufcw1500.org/bd15.