By DAVID A. COOK
It will probably be many years before we truly know how COVID-19 changed our way of life. With new cases hardly wiped out and more than 100,000 dead at the time of this writing, we are hardly out of the woods just yet. We are, however, making good progress.
New cases are slowing in some places, and our healthcare system does not appear to be on the verge of collapse. If we continue to practice common sense like wearing masks (particularly indoors in crowded places) practicing social distancing and limiting large gatherings, we will ultimately emerge from this crisis.
The danger isn’t gone, and we can’t forget that, but the danger has forced a lot of us to rethink how we operate.
Offices and businesses around the country are learning that many workers can do their jobs from home. Who knows where this trend will lead? Perhaps it will soon be common for a St. Louis resident to work for a company in California without ever leaving the Show Me State.
Delivery services may see a permanent uptick in demand, grocery stores may emphasize delivery or curbside service, restaurants may reshape to provide more carry-out and delivery options, and shaking hands might become less common.
All of this leads to the next question, and this is one that directly impacts all of us reading this.
That question is: how will unions change?
TECHNOLOGY TAKING US FORWARD
In just the span of a few months, UFCW Local 655 has changed a lot about the way we communicate and service our partners. Regular video updates have become more important than ever. Your union representatives are relying on digital tools like our texting program to keep you updated on new developments as well as stay in touch with you, and we’re exploring ways to put new tools in your hands to make it as easy as possible to get the information or help you need from your union.
So, how will this Union change? It’s hard to say for certain, but the conversations are already taking place. If we can make it easier than ever for us to communicate with each other, perhaps we can adjust the way we think about servicing in this organization.
Local 655 has always placed a premium on providing good service to our partners. We’ve done this by making sure we’re in workplaces as often as possible, having conversations with partners like you and moving quickly to resolve issues. If we can continue to provide that level of service via digital tools, it will free up manpower and resources to devote to arguably the most critical activity in Labor: organizing.
UNION ORGANIZING BRINGS POSITIVE CHANGE
I’ve spoken at length since I became your president on how important organizing is to the future of Labor. If we don’t continue to build union density and raise the floor for all workers, unions will continue to shrink and massive companies that don’t care about their workers will choke out the Labor Movement with their vast resources.
And this moment may be the best time to give worker’s an opportunity to organize. There’s an important national movement taking place, and part of that movement features appreciation and respect for workers on a level I’ve never seen before in the general public. The importance of workers in grocery stores, gas stations, hospitals, restaurants and more has never been more apparent to the general public, and those workers have never before been so empowered to seek positive changes.
I don’t know precisely how this Local will be changing in the coming months, but I know that it’s unlikely we will remain the same. As we continue to get feedback from you about how we can adjust our approach without sacrificing the quality of our service, it’s become clear that there are opportunities for change.
With the right tools and programs in place, we may be able to reduce the number of staff we dedicate to servicing. If so, we can commit more resources to organizing and growing this union family. Growing the size of this local is a net positive for all: it gives us more leverage to negotiate contracts for our partners, it raises the floor for non-union employers trying to compete, and it expands the footprint of Organized Labor in the region.
Change is inevitable, and when we are faced with newer and bigger challenges, change becomes necessary. Labor has failed to change in the past, but it can’t fail to meet this moment in the present.
We can’t say for certain what Local 655 will look like in the near future, but we can say for sure that it won’t look the same as it did today.