By DAVID A. COOK
In corporate America, there’s a common philosophy: if you aren’t growing, you’re dying. In the business world, stagnation is not acceptable. Businesses that thrive are always innovating, always looking for new ways to succeed, to lower costs, to enhance profits and so on.
Sometimes this approach is what causes us to clash with the businesses whose employees we represent. Sometimes those employers try to “innovate” at the cost of our workers and our jobs. In today’s world, that often means that automation is threatening our work.
Many of the industries we represent are in danger. As businesses continue to create new ways to eliminate jobs via automation, we have to have our eyes on the future.
On one hand, we need to give these businesses some room to advance. We have to give the companies we represent the ability to be competitive in changing markets. But we also have an important responsibility to protect our partners.
PROTECTING PARTNERS THROUGH ORGANIZING
The best way to protect this organization from job losses due to automation is to look to the world of organizing. Growth is absolutely essential to the future of Labor as a whole, and this includes Local 655.
We have done some good work organizing new workers in the past few years, but with the losses we suffered with the Shop ‘n Save sale, and the losses at smaller business like Payless Shoes and Nestle, our membership has continued to shrink.
We cannot accept this trend. We must find ways to press forward and grow this organization by finding new workplaces in need of representation. Many of our brothers and sisters in the UFCW have found ways to do this already.
CANNABIS INDUSTRY HIGH ON UNION REPRESENTATION
Across the country, but in Illinois in particular, UFCW locals represent workers in the legal cannabis industry. Local 881 in Illinois has championed the cause of organizing cannabis workers, and they are in the process of cornering the market on this new batch of potential workers. As medical marijuana begins to emerge in Missouri, we will keep a close eye on this industry as a potential place for an expansion of our membership.
UFCW was also fortunate to win a recent organizing campaign in Chicago with the grocery delivery company Instacart. This victory represented the first of its kind in the country, and potentially an important precedent for us, a union representing grocery workers.
In California, there are court battles concerning the workers in the so-called “gig economy” like Uber. Unions and Uber drivers are suing for the right to organize despite being classified by their company as “independent contractors.” With any luck and a good court decision, there could potentially be millions of new workers that are ripe for organizing.
GROWTH THROUGH EMPOWERMENT
Organizing is critical if we are going to survive, which is why we are expanding our EmPOWER program here at Local 655.
Any Local 655 partner who brings us a lead on a viable organizing campaign will be entered in to a raffle to win $500. I hope to be handing out a lot of these checks in the future.
The parameters are simple: if you bring Local 655 a viable organizing campaign, we will enter you into a drawing with any other participants and give the winner $500.
So, if you want the opportunity to make some quick cash, talk to your friends and family. Are there workplaces where a union is needed, where there is appetite for organization? Let us know!
We have to grow this Local in order to have the bargaining strength to be effective for you, our partners. We have to increase union density, maintain strong numbers, and evolve with the times we live in. Over the next decade, we’re going to see potentially massive shifts toward automation. We can’t resist those changes carte blanche, we have to embrace that our world is changing, and then vow to work hard and change with it.