Earn your rest

By DAVID A. COOK
President

Earlier this month I found myself at our annual UFCW Retiree’s Christmas Party. The annual gathering is our small way of thanking our retirees for their years of hard-work and dedication to their union. We cook a good meal and chat with our fellow union partners who are enjoying their much-deserved retirement.

I’ve got a few gray hairs on my head so it turns out I know quite a few of these folks. The fact is that many of the men and women I had the honor of working alongside for years have now joined the ranks of the retired. While it’s not my time to join them just yet, it does give me a sense of satisfaction to see the way people with good union pensions slide right into their twilight years.

A lot of these folks are easy to spot. After decades working on their feet in grocery stores or pharmacies, or perhaps after decades fighting for their fellow union partners at the union hall, suddenly they are living a much calmer life. There’s a smile that permanently lingers on their face, there’s a casual bounce in their voice, and there’s the clear and obvious lack of stress weighing them down.

NOT ALL WORKERS ENJOY A GOOD RETIREMENT
Sadly, not all workers get to enjoy a good retirement. As unions shrank across the country and more and more companies moved away from guaranteed benefit plans — or even worse, squandered pension funds through fraud or incompetence — and stopped prioritizing retirement benefits, workers increasingly find themselves working right into the grave.

It’s not always easy for younger workers to think about retirement, or the benefits of having a union pension. Younger workers are the most transient.

Workers under 35 overwhelmingly expect to work any job for less than three years, and millennial workers alone expect to have 20 jobs or more in their lifetimes. That’s almost double the 12 jobs the average baby boomer works. As retirement benefits have become less and less common, younger workers have learned simply not to expect them, and the average younger workers doubts they will afford retirement at all.

Frankly, this breaks my heart. As someone who will be able to enjoy a comfortable retirement one day, and as someone who has seen countless union men and women retire with comfort and dignity over the years, it deeply saddens me that so many younger workers won’t enjoy those same benefits, or don’t expect to.

HIGH-QUALITY PENSIONS
While the high-quality pensions afforded to our partners aren’t always the thing that grabs a young worker’s attention, it’s still something we prioritize at this union.

Good stewardship of our major pension funds is a key piece of what we do. I’m proud to say that our major pension funds are very well funded and will continue to be something our partners can count on. I’m also extremely proud of the work we did with Dierbergs to create a new pension fund that provides guaranteed benefits while also giving the employer more flexibility for long-term investment in their workforce. This new fund is increasingly becoming a standard for union plans across the country and Local 655 was ahead of the curve.

MORE COMFORTABLE RETIREMENTSUnion workers enjoy far more comfortable retirements on average than non-union workers. Obviously growing the Labor Movement will provide more workers a path to comfortable retirement, but perhaps we need to start even simpler than that.

Perhaps what we need to do is change the expectations of younger workers in this country who are understandably a bit cynical about their long-term ability to retire. After all, these workers witnessed the collapse of the economy more than once and, from a young age, heard story after story of companies like Enron robbing people of their retirement accounts. They have a certain cynicism about the economy and I can’t say I blame them.

Maybe if we do a better job of making sure younger workers know that they’ve earned the right to retire one day through their hard work — or if we make it clear that there needs to be a life beyond work that they deserve to look forward to — they’ll pursue jobs with good retirement benefits or seek out unions to secure their future.

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