An Open Letter to the employees of Red Wing



Usually I reserve this space to communicate to my Local 655 partners or the general public. Today I’m doing something a little different. Some of you may be aware that we have an active union campaign at the Red Wing shoe facility in Potosi. Today, I’m using this space to communicate directly with them.

Dear Red Wing employees,
First, allow me to congratulate you on filing a petition for a union election. We haven’t had the chance to meet yet, but I hope we get the opportunity to do so very soon. I’ve been keeping a close eye on your campaign and have gotten regular updates from the organizers you’ve likely already met.

I’ve been involved in more campaigns than I can count, so I know precisely what you’re going through. They’re stressful sometimes, I know. First your employer tells you that you don’t need a union because you are all one big happy family, then they throw you a bone or two, making minor fixes to insignificant problems without addressing your biggest concerns.

Then suddenly people you’ve never seen at your workplace before start showing up. They start holding meetings and handing out literature. All of this can make for an exhausting process and you have my sincere respect for taking up the cause. It adds an extra layer of stress to a job that is already difficult.

I know many of you are working six days every week and often 10 or 12 hour shifts. I know many of you haven’t enjoyed consecutive days off in years and mandatory overtime has become a staple of your job.

That’s no way to live.

Every hard-working person deserves adequate time off to see their friends and family, or complete tasks around their home. In fact, every worker deserves some time off to simply do nothing at all! One of the reasons we work hard is so that we may enjoy some leisure time. We all get tired. We’ve all just needed some time to be still and enjoy life.

The fact that Red Wing is making all that so difficult for you upsets me, but it does not surprise me. Too many non-union workplaces don’t see their employees as people with lives outside of work. Instead they often view their workers the same way they view a piece of equipment: a machine to be turned on and off whenever they feel like it.

I could make empty promises like your employer, but I won’t. What I am going to do is state some plain facts and trust you to see those facts and decide what is best for you.

1) Union Red Wing employees make more money than you do, even after paying dues.

2) Union workers enjoy rights on the job that you currently do not have.

Those are two simple facts that are simply not up for debate.

Red Wing will tell you that “the union can’t guarantee you anything,” or that you could “lose things you currently have” in bargaining. In a sense that’s true, but not for the reason Red Wing says it is.

See, “the union” isn’t me. It’s not some abstract concept. It’s not a building in St. Louis. YOU are the union. YOU decide what is in a union contract. When we bargain with our employers we have workers just like you in those negotiations because it’s YOU, the workers, that ultimately decide what is in a contract.

So ask yourself, would you ever give something up that you think is important in a union contract? No, of course not. You’d never vote in favor of that.

Can “the union” guarantee you anything? Well here’s a guarantee I’m happy to make right here in writing: If you join the Local 655 family I can guarantee you that you and your coworkers will decide what should be in your contract. Red Wing employees will sit on our bargaining committee and Red Wing workers will vote on a contract.

Of course, we told your employer we’d be more than happy to join you at your mandatory work meetings to answer your questions and, of course, your employer refused. That’s because they don’t want us to talk to you. They don’t want you to hear what we have to say.

I often ask workers considering joining a union a simple question: why does your employer try so hard to stop you from joining a union? What’s more likely: That Red Wing cares deeply about you and doesn’t want the “big bad union” to hoodwink you into giving them your money? Or is it more likely that Red Wing knows that a union contract means that they’ll have to listen to their employees and follow a contract?

By the time some of you read this there’s a good chance that Schnucks workers will have voted on a new three-year contract. That contract featured some of the largest wage increases in our history and expanded healthcare benefits without a costing those workers a single penny more. Guess what? It’s possible they voted to reject it! I can’t say with 100 percent certainty as I write this what they will do because I am not “the union.”

Workers are the union. Workers together, fighting for their common needs, have real power. Today, it’s truer than ever. Look at the Labor Movement across the country and tell me what you see. What I see is workers standing up and demanding the better life they have earned and work so hard for.

I’m sure the next few weeks prior to your election will be a little stressful. I’m sure you’ll be subjected to the good cop and the bad cop at your company. You’ll have meetings where everyone smiles and says how wonderful it is without the union, and you’ll have meetings where they tell you just how dark and scary we are like some kind of boogeyman.

In the end, the decision is yours, and yours alone. You know what is best for yourself and your family. I won’t give you false promises. I won’t act like I know what’s best for you. You’re smart enough to make your own decisions. 

I truly respect the hard work you are all doing, both in your everyday lives and in the course of this union campaign. Please feel free to reach out to us any time if you have questions. My name is David Cook, I’m the President of UFCW Local 655, and I hope you decide to join our union family because I know that workers together are stronger.

Or, as we like to say around here: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

Let’s go to the table together.



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