A long way to go

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By DAVID A. COOK
President

By the time you read this, we’ll be more than halfway through with the month of July. Somehow, 2020 has felt like the longest and shortest year at the same time. Much of this year has been dominated by a single topic: COVID-19.

One thing that has become abundantly clear is that this topic isn’t going anywhere. Not only are cases rising at an alarming rate, but the percentage of folks testing positive is rising dramatically, especially in hotspots like Houston, Miami and Phoenix.

Right here in Missouri, St. Charles recently experienced a significant spike, Jefferson County just had their highest positive cases this past weekend since the beginning of the pandemic, statewide hospitalizations are now beginning to rise again, and now the health departments are strongly considering requiring wearing mask in public.

Nationally, the U.S. is drastically underperforming our allies. Even accounting for the difference in our population size, our nation has radically more new cases, deaths, and hospitalizations than almost any other comparable country. In short, we aren’t handling this pandemic well. As of this writing, 1,113 Missourians have died of COVID-19 and tens of thousands more have been infected.

WHO DO WE BLAME?
Like many of you, I have some thoughts on where to lay blame for this crisis and our failure to contain it. Perhaps some of our elected officials ought to be blamed. Some of them opened their communities too fast or failed to shut down quickly enough. Some of them dragged their feet implementing safety measures in the public, and some of them denied the dangers, using words like “hoax” far too often.

Of course, some of our elected officials did the best they could. They listened to experts, took decisive action, and even made decisions that may have been unpopular in the short-term, but had a clear long-term benefit to the public health.

I would be lying if I said that much of my frustration has been, at times, directed toward my fellow citizens. I’ve seen too many customers in grocery stores refusing to wear masks for a variety of reasons, each sillier than the last. I know this comment will not be popular with every partner, but that’s ok.

My thoughts on masks are quite simple: you, me, all of us live in a community and so we have a responsibility to the community we live in. We have an agreement, often unspoken, to take care of our community together for the benefit of all of us. You may not want to wear a mask because it’s your “right.” I call BS on that. I may want to take my car out and drive it 180 miles per hour down the highway, but I can’t. I don’t have a right to do that. Why? Simple: the community I live in prohibits it for the protection of myself and my neighbors. So, for those that don’t want to wear a mask, it’s time to get over it. You live in this community with us, and you have a responsibility to that community.

DENYING SCIENCE
Too many have simply refused to believe expert opinions, instead listening to fringe voices on the internet or being duped by lies or misinformation spreading on social media like wildfire. As a result, America will likely face no “second wave” in the fall because our first wave has never ended.

Throughout this crisis Local 655 has been focused on our partners, many of whom are working in grocery stores or workplaces that cannot close because they are deemed “essential.” Whether you are a cashier at one of our grocery stores, or a plant worker at Holten Meat, your job is considered too critical to let you stay home.

PUSHING FOR HAZARD PAYPushing for hazard pay

In the early days of this pandemic we focused on expanding health benefits to cover the costs associated with this disease, and we focused on protective equipment and work policies. We moved quickly to encourage and convince our employers to install protective barriers where possible and provide masks and sanitary supplies.

As many of those measures remain in place, we are now turning our attention to another critical benefit for our partners: better compensation.

Some of you may know that earlier this week I asked Local Union presidents to join me in signing a letter to Schnucks, Dierbergs and Straubs asking for real hazard pay for their employees. I have also made similar requests of other smaller grocery store operations, as well as for my non-grocery partners across the area.

For months, Congress has failed to take this action themselves in the form of “Hero Pay” checks for millions of workers. We held out hope that your federal government might see the need for this additional pay and take action, but sadly that has proven to not be the case, it appears that a bill that passed the House of Representatives that would have granted essential workers heroes pay of up to $10,000 will never be heard in the Senate. Congress is still struggling to extend unemployment benefits past their current expiration date in a few days and a supposed second stimulus check is looking more and more unlikely.

UNDERPAID, UNDERVALUED AND A LONG WAY TO GO
So, if our federal government won’t act, it’s time for us to find another way to secure you the pay you deserve.

This is why we’ve made a direct appeal to our employers, asking them to acknowledge the incredible work so many of you have done with a pay increase for the duration of this crisis as well as back pay for the work you’ve already done.

It has always been our belief that too many American workers are underpaid and undervalued, and this pandemic has done nothing but highlight that problem. It turns out that “essential” or “frontline” workers are not the CEOs who can work from their comfortable homes. It turns out that in order to keep the country afloat what we truly need are folks working in our grocery stores, gas stations, food processing facilities  and hospitals.

These are the men and women who keep our communities truly functioning. Without these men and women, YOU, food supplies break down, illness and injuries cease to get treatment, and our communities tip toward something truly frightening.

As of this writing, I can’t say for certain if our employers will meet this moment and provide you with the compensation you deserve. I also can’t say how long this crisis will last, or how long it will affect your job.

We know there’s still a long way to go. We know there’s a lot of unknowns on the path in front of us. What we also know is that we are here, every day, to fight for our partners. You’ve all risen to this moment to serve the public, and we won’t ever stop trying to follow your example by serving you.

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