By DAVID A. COOK
As I write these words, the men and women of McKesson Corporation in O’Fallon are standing on a picket line. For the past week and around the clock, the men and women of McKesson Corporation have been on the picket line. In temperatures that dipped below 20 degrees, soared above 50, and in the wind and rain, the men and women of McKesson Corporation stood on the picket line.
It started more than a week ago when our partners at McKesson rejected their second contract proposal by an overwhelming margin and authorized a strike. Sure, there are issues concerning their wages that have understandably angered McKesson workers, but like many strikes, it’s about far more than dollars and cents.
Like so many strikes these days, the primary issue at McKesson is a lack of respect from management that sees its workers not as valued and important parts of a company, but as cogs in a machine, or numbers on a spreadsheet — expendable. McKesson workers are frequently faced with mandatory overtime, particularly on shifts in the middle of the night. The result: it’s not uncommon for a worker at McKesson on overnight shifts to work 50 or 60 hours in a week that includes mandatory overtime with little time left to spend with their family. More than a week ago when McKesson workers voted to strike, the proposal from their company would have cut back on their breaks.
The facility in question, located in O’Fallon, is a distribution center for pharmaceuticals. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you that I certainly don’t want the person shipping prescription drugs to be overworked and tired. That’s how mistakes are made, and we can’t afford those errors when pharmaceuticals are involved.
OVERWORKED AND UNDERPAID
So, this group of workers, underpaid and overworked, decided to take a stand.
It’s not easy striking in these times. Our economy is still groaning under the weight of a pandemic, and strikes are difficult even in the good times.
For those of you that have been on strike, you know the routine, and you know how hard it can be. Long shifts outside in all forms of weather, especially in February and March in Missouri, are not easy. Donuts and coffee become your primary food groups, and eventually the day comes when you miss that first paycheck, and you find yourself making difficult financial decisions.
STRIKES ARE HARD ON EVERYONE
There is a myth among anti-union individuals and organizations that Labor unions like to strike, or that we somehow enjoy withholding labor to exact some kind of toll on companies we do not like. Anyone who has walked a picket line or been on strike knows nothing could be further from the truth. While withholding labor is a key tool for Labor unions, it is hardly a tool we enjoy using.
Picketers often walk in difficult weather, sometimes in the middle of the night, to maintain a picket line. They must find a way to stay fed and hydrated while maintaining a picket line, they must stay warm and dry while maintaining a picket line.
In short, a work stoppage is hard on everyone. It’s essentially a dispute between workers who are physically and financially straining themselves and their employer, who is dealing with the costly prospect of keeping their business running without its regular employees.
MORE THAN MONEY, IT’S ABOUT RESPECT
I don’t know what will happen next at McKesson. I don’t know how long the workers will be on the picket line, and I don’t know what their employer will do next.
I know that these workers are fighting for more than money — they are standing up for respect in the workplace, for the right to have a reasonable balance between work life and home life, to be treated as more than just a part in a machine.
McKesson is one of the largest companies in the United States, making billions and billions of dollars every year — a pharmaceutical giant. Their workers make them successful. They keep the company running. They are the foundation that those profits are built on.
They’ve earned the right to a job that treats them like human beings, they’ve worked hard and earned the right to a decent wage and benefits. They don’t want anything more than what all workers want: a better life.