July 2013: Chess Match

By: Bruce W. Both

For over 70 years, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 has been negotiating contracts on behalf of working men and women. Naturally, over the years, the names and faces of the employers we negotiate with have changed but the method and goal of collective bargaining has remained consistent:  To negotiate the best wages, benefits and working conditions possible for the members of Local 1500   

As we head into negotiations this coming September, our goals have not changed, nor will they ever.  Your Unions negotiating committee will meet face to face with your employers and attempt to negotiate a fair contract. However, this year there will be a third party at the negotiating table and their presence will bring about major changes to your contracts and the rules that we our used to negotiating by.

For example, over the years, many members have described our negotiations as a chess match. Well imagine if you will, after all these years of playing chess one –on one, someone comes along and tells you that you will now be playing chess with three players at the board instead of two.    

These negotiations will force this Union and your employers to involve the Federal government as a third party in a substantial way at the bargaining table.  That is because massive and historical changes to our nations healthcare laws through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will legally require us to make changes to the Unions Health and Welfare plans.  These are changes that we absolutely oppose.

I want to make this point very clear: Certain changes to our healthcare plans will be required under federal law and leave the Union and the employer with no other choice but to comply.

The changes required under the ACA will increase the cost of our health care plans, require us to redesign them and still force thousands of our members to deal with purchasing heath insurance through the New York State Healthcare Exchanges next year.

Despite the best intentions of the ACA, the end result is presenting our Union with one of its greatest challenges in decades.

I want to assure you that your Union has been preparing for these changes well in advance of these upcoming negotiations. We have been meeting with healthcare experts, monitoring other UFCW contracts from around the country and meeting on a daily basis with staff.  Still, as we have all come to expect when dealing with a bureaucracy like the Federal government, they have yet to provide us with all the necessary guidelines and regulations required by ACA. So, the situation is still evolving.

Clearly, this is not how your Union would choose to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. We prefer to play chess the way it was intended: one-on-one. For over 70 years, without legislative interference from the Federal government, this Union has negotiated the finest wages, benefits and working conditions in the supermarket industry throughout the Country using this process. We also did this with tough bargaining, a united membership and knowing who we were dealing with across the table. While we will still need to use all of those tools to be successful, the unknowns of the ACA loom large   

So, despite the challenges that lie ahead, our goals have not changed nor has the formula for success. What has is the role of the Federal government and we must all be prepared what the new player at the chess board brings to the table.