It pays to be union


For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing, texting, and phone calling about the $600 grant that most of our partners will be eligible for through the USDA and the UFCW Charity Foundation.

We’ve been and will continue blanketing our partners with information on this program. Hopefully if you’re one of our partners you’ve seen the literature in your store or gotten a text or a phone call with more information. By the time the print copy of this issue arrives, the application process will officially be open.

As of this writing, it remains closed. Feb. 15 at 8 a.m. CST marks the beginning of the process and we can’t say for sure how this process will unfold. It’s possible that it will unfold smoothly, that most of our partners will encounter relatively little technical challenges and that the overwhelming majority of those who apply will be eligible for and receive the $600 grant.

However, I’ve been around long enough to know that most good things don’t come without challenges, and online application processes administered by the federal government don’t always roll out smoothly. While I appreciate being in the first group of states releasing funds, the sooner my partners get extra money in their pockets the better. The concern is if there are problems undoubtedly it will be in the first group of states.

So for those of you reading this who might be impacted by any hiccups let me say that I know it’s frustrating, but keep in mind that UFCW is not administering the application process, so while we will do anything we can to guide you through this, the bulk of the program is simply not something we can fix at the snap of our fingers. We can and will do whatever we can to advocate on your behalf and we will not simply sit idly by if there are major problems with applications.

I also want to note that this program has a limited amount of available funds. The first three states set to benefit from this program are Georgia, Kansas and Missouri. For those three states the USDA has allocated $10 million in grant money for food workers. It feels strange to say that $10 million isn’t a lot of money, but when you figure how many workers there are in those three states, you can see how quickly that money can go away. I also want to be as clear as possible that eligibility will be based on where you work, not where you live. So if you live in Illinois but you work in Missouri, you should be eligible.

Funds are dispersed on a first-come first-serve basis and once the pot is empty, it’ll stay empty. This is why we’re telling all our partners to apply as quickly as possible on Feb. 15 and, if they encounter any technical issues, to keep trying until they get through. We want our hard-working partners to have the first shot at this.

While this program also allows non-union workers to apply, let’s make no mistake: UFCW got this done. It was our advocacy, our negotiations and discussions with the administration and our commitment to this cause that got this money. While I personally have no problem with someone at Whole Foods who worked during the pandemic getting these funds, the workers at Whole Foods don’t pay my salary, you do.

That’s why it’s my job and the job of my staff to make sure that you have whatever you need during this process to get this money in your pocket.

I don’t know how this process will unfold. If I were a betting man, I would bet that there are some technical issues on the application side. I would bet that some folks will encounter issues because the sheer volume of workers stepping forward and looking for their well-deserved piece of the pie is going to overwhelm the system. I’ve been wrong before, and I hope I’m wrong about that. I hope the rollout is smooth, the process is simple, and every single one of the eligible partners we represent gets their money.

I’ve spoken about this a little bit already but I feel an obligation to mention it again.

This grant money is the direct result of our efforts in politics. Some of our partners have questioned why we should be involved in politics at all and some have said that it’s either pointless, or simply not what we should spend time and money on.

I’ve been in more meetings discussing politics than I care to count. Frankly, the headache of politics is one I’d love to avoid forever if only we had that luxury, but we don’t. Sometimes these politicians put a target on our backs and we have no option but to respond. We can’t be good advocates for our partners if we sit by when politicians try to slash the minimum wage, create universal on-call scheduling, reduce worker safety, or attack workplace benefits. We can’t be good advocates for you our partners, if we sit by during a pandemic, and don’t do everything we can to keep you safe and paid.

We aggressively lobbied on the state and federal level to get pay for essential workers during the pandemic. It breaks my heart that many of our politicians utterly failed to make that happen, but we never lost sight of the goal and we never stopped trying.

To those of you that contributed to our ABC fund during this time I extend my sincere thanks to you. This is how we build political power and how we fund the research and lobby efforts necessary to achieve these kinds of goals. To those of you that are not contributing today, I sincerely hope you’ll reconsider now that you’ve seen what kind of results can be achieved.


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