New Year, New Opportunities

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By DAVID A. COOK
President

Welcome to 2024. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend the next few weeks saying “I can’t believe it’s 2024 already” over and over again. After nearly 40 years in this union, I sometimes look at the year on the calendar and find myself amazed at how far we’ve all come. 

It’s easy to think that this year will be predictable or just like the others. When you’ve been around for a while it can sometimes feel like everything just repeats itself. If you’re one of our partners that has spent decades in grocery stores, you can probably predict the big moments of the year like an almanac calculates the weather. Here we go into January, hours will get tight and stores will slow down. Floral folks will soon be hammered with additional business because of Valentine’s Day. 

College casual help will leave soon, and you’ll be back to that same problem that’s plagued the industry especially hard for the last few years: lack of proper staffing. 

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new will happen. It always does. I’m happy to report that there are always new challenges — it’s what keeps us young. 

As we enter 2024 I can tell you that UFCW Local 655 is confronted with a unique moment in our history, one that I can honestly say I haven’t seen before. That moment means there are opportunities for folks like you. 

If you happen to follow us on social media, you probably saw my holiday message. First and foremost, I thanked our folks in the stores and all of our partners for their hard work during the holidays. It should go without saying that this time of year is busy and taxing on many of you, and juggling the strain of work with your personal life — spending time with the people you care about — isn’t always easy. Every year, you find a way to do it, and it humbles me. 

UNION LEAVE OF ABSENCE
As we climb into 2024, I also included something else in my holiday message. There are opportunities brewing here at UFCW Local 655 that I think could be appealing to some of our partners. For those of you that aren’t familiar, many of our contracts have something called Union Leave of Absence (ULA) language.

The specifics may vary slightly, but broadly speaking, Union Leave of Absence allows for “loss time” for any of our partners to leave their current jobs and come work for Local 655 at their same rate of pay. You retain all your benefits, including insurance and pension contributions and seniority and when your time here concludes, you have your job guaranteed awaiting you back with your employer.

For example, let’s say you work for Schnucks, Dierbergs, or Straub’s. If you were interested, you could potentially join our Local 655 staff on a short-term basis and at any time you want, you can go back to work without having lost anything. The whole time, you’re earning your same pay, and you’re keeping benefits.

ORGANIZE NON-UNION WORKERS
What kind of work do we use for ULA folks? It varies. Some of our ULA folks come out to help us organize non-union workers. After all, nothing is more powerful when speaking to non-union workers than hearing from workers like you that can talk about the benefits of having a union contract. 

Organizing is a possible landing place for anyone interested in coming out on Loss Time for a while. I’m happy to say that our Loss Time program has also helped us find some of our best future staffers. More than a few of your current union staff started off in the ULA program.

2024 ELECTION YEAR
Although I should be clear about something: 2024 is an election year. This means that many of our ULA folks will be working on political campaigns. UFCW Local 655 will be supporting Democrat and Republican candidates in the coming election cycle. We will also be working on some initiative petition campaigns focused on raising worker wages, protecting the power of our vote on the ballot, and ensuring basic workplace benefits for all Missourians.

Campaign work can involve asking for petition signatures or canvassing door-to-door for candidates or campaigns, and more. It’s not work that is for everyone. Not all of you will be interested, but I am confident some of you will be.

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
If you’d like a chance to get out of your workplace for a while and retain your pay and benefits to get paid to make a difference, then Local 655 has an opportunity for you. If you’d like a break from the hustle and bustle of your workplace and would like to get paid for your time to try to change things for the better, then we might have an opportunity for you.

Make no mistake, it was UFCW Local 655 and our ULA program that defeated the phony “right-to-work” (for-less) in 2018. It was UFCW Local 655 that helped raise the minimum wage, and it’s UFCW Local 655 have taken to the streets to elect candidates of both parties that support basic rights for workers. All those victories would not have been possible without our ULA program, without people like you. 

HEALTH AND WELFARE FUND EMPLOYEES
In addition our Health and Welfare Fund has had several retirements. While we are happy for these employees their retirement means our Health and Welfare Fund is looking for a couple employees. This may be an opportunity for a couple of our partners that are interested in an office setting with good wages and benefits that wants to provide a service to our partners.

2024 is a new year, a time for new things and resolutions. Want to try something new? 

If you or your coworker wants to know more about the ULA program, contact your union representative.

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