By DAVID A. COOK
About two weeks ago I was honored to be re-elected as your Local 655 President for a third time. I was elected — along with my entire ticket consisting of Secretary Treasurer Garry Torpea, Recorder Nancy Parker and the entire Executive Board — to continue leading an organization for which I have dedicated my entire adult life.
First, I should say how humbling it is to be asked to serve my brothers and sisters in Local 655. It is the honor of my life, and I can’t possibly thank you all enough for allowing me to continue to lead this organization.
Second, I should take a moment to thank all those around me that help me lead. My fellow elected officers, Garry Torpea and Nancy Parker, have likewise dedicated their whole careers to this union.
Our Executive Board — consisting not just of staff but of rank-and-file members of this union — have consistently shown their care for this Union Family and have always risen to the occasion to help it remain strong.
Finally, I have to thank my staff. The men and women on staff at Local 655 make my job easier every day with their hard work and passion. They believe in the fight for a better life for all workers, and I’m deeply fortunate to lead them.
MORE WORK TO BE DONE
While I may be much closer to the end of my career than the beginning of it, I can’t help but think about how much there is left to do, not just for Local 655, but for the entire Labor Movement. Some of the challenges before us seem new, but most of them are just newer versions of what we have always fought: politicians serving corporate masters and attacking the working class, automation sapping good jobs from our ranks, and massive companies consolidating into monopolies and pushing back against unionization with all their considerable resources.
These are the problems we’ve always faced; they just come dressed up in new clothes every few years. This has been the struggle for working men and women since the early days of the industrial revolution in America. Hard-working families keep stores open and factories working, but a smaller and smaller group of elites collect the bulk of the profits. When working families demand better wages or benefits, they are met with violence or political schemes that conspire to keep them down.
Local 655 and our approximately 9,000 partners won’t win this fight on our own. We have to acknowledge how very real the stakes are. Not long ago, Local 655 was nearly twice as large as it is today. In my early days in the Labor Movement, the power of Organized Labor was arguably at its peak.
It’s been a slow and steady decline for the movement for so long, despite the victories we have. Businesses close down or consolidate, reducing the workforce. Automation takes more and more jobs away, industries change, and government writes laws making it harder and harder to even join a union in the first place.
MOVING FORWARD WITH A FOCUS ON GROWTH
As I look forward to the next few years I can tell you that I’m focused on growth.
The Labor Movement has to find a way to reverse the trend of declining membership, particularly in the private sector, or Locals like ours will be effectively gone in a generation. We have to focus on new industries and new inroads in businesses in our region where workers deserve better.
Some of that growth might be found in traditional retail outlets, while some of it may be found in other emerging industries. In states across the country, UFCW has become the defacto union for workers in the legal cannabis industry. It’s an industry often with young workers open to unionization, and an industry with its own safety concerns that may need a strong union voice to support workers.
In other places, we’re seeing fights to unionize the so-called “gig economy” workers like our Uber drivers or Postmates delivery folks. Some of these fights will require court intervention but if they can be won, it means millions of potential members are out there waiting to join a union family.
For as long as we’ve had unions we’ve had the evidence to back up a simple statement: Union workers are more likely to be better off across the board. Union workers are more likely to have retirement plans and healthcare; they make better wages and their communities are more likely to have good schools and safer streets.
We must find a way to show this to our neighbors and friends. We have to appeal to their desires for a better life.
If we don’t find ways to talk about our goals and values with the public, we could see the movement crumble.
There’s so much work to be done. The size of what is next is humbling, but it’s not frightening. As your president, I am determined to meet all these challenges head-on and with zeal. That’s why you elected me, and that’s why it’s an honor to serve.