By DAVID A. COOK
President, UFCW Local 655
This article is a message to all union members and their families. It speaks to the issue of whether or not union retail outlets – like our union grocery chains in St. Louis – are going to survive, and with them the livelihoods, i.e. good paying union jobs, of thousands of union families.
The essence of this article: YOU will make that decision!
I would ask every union member in the St Louis area the following: Don’t we have a duty as union brothers and sisters to focus our efforts and spend our dollars with stores and companies that support good union jobs and against stores that stand utterly opposed to the union philosophy?
Let me explain:
Last month, Local 655 completed very difficult negotiations with Schnucks Markets over a new three-year contract, undoubtedly the most challenging negotiations in my 30 years serving my union. During negotiations, companies and unions rarely see eye-to-eye; that’s the nature of bargaining. But we persevered.
SERIOUS IMPACT ON UNION JOBS
After we signed our new agreement, Todd Schnuck, chairman/CEO, published an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explaining the serious and growing competition in the local grocery market between union and non-union companies. It was a startling revelation that union members living in our region need to understand:
“… 20 or 30 years ago, the traditional, St. Louis-based grocers probably had 90 percent of the market, and as recently as 2003, (it was) 67 percent. But the pressure from non-union competitors has mounted steadily, especially in the last 15 years. Now the collective market share of the traditional (union) players like ourselves is about 48 percent.”
The truth is most, if not all, of the non-union operators have a much lower cost per man-hour and when their employees attempt to have their voices heard collectively, they face typical non-union fear and intimidation tactics. As union members, unfortunately we too often forget that.
As a result, too many union men, women and families (including their extended families) are taking their dollars to non-union stores. Too many union men, women and families remain quiet, instead of telling their friends, families and neighbors, about the importance of patronizing union businesses.
The truly sad part: If shoppers continue to flock to non-union employers, ALL union families will suffer.
While negotiations will always highlight the differences between employers and unions, and while we will never be in lockstep with the companies employing thousands of hard-working union families, our true enemies are stores paying poverty wages, busting union organizing attempts which are robbing all kinds of good union jobs from our communities.
Case in point: The more successful Schnucks is, the more it can expand and build new stores or increase their sales at their current stores. If they do this, they will hire more union employees. If they increase their market share, they are in a far better position to pay their thousands of union employees a better wage and provide them better benefits.
But it doesn’t stop with my members. As Local 655 members spend their better wages into the community, the better off other union stores will be and the better off our entire community is.
And that ripple effect doesn’t simply apply to Local 655’s members, but to ALL union families who earn a union wage that’s eventually spent into the local economy.
LOW WAGES COMING TO YOUR JOB?
Whether it’s Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Whole Foods, Target, Aldi’s or one of the many other non-union grocers and/or other retailers adding food to their lines, the result is lowering the living standards for EVERYONE in the retail sector. And that spills over to every union sector when employers get the scent that they too should consider going non-union and kill their good-paying union jobs.
Now, while Schnucks employs more union workers than any other company in the St Louis area that I know of, I don’t claim to agree with every business decision they make. It’s no secret that Todd Schnuck and I don’t always agree with one another. Like all of our employers, he sometimes has disputes or disagreements with individuals or groups – my union included – that make him the target of criticism.
I GIVE HIM CREDIT
Despite these disagreements, I have to credit Todd Schnuck for his accurate and honest portrayal of a market that is increasingly trending away from union workforces and the long-term impact it will have on all of us as union members, no matter where we work.
As long as union families continue to ignore the four major union grocery chains here – Schnucks, Dierbergs, Shop ‘n Save and Straubs – we can’t expect our union membership to grow in the St. Louis/southern Illinois region. Isn’t time better spent on fighting our common enemies, not on condemning our friends when they do not agree with us?
Or for that matter, holding grudges?
Notes Todd Schnuck’s article:
“Working in partnership with our unions (to make St. Louis a stronger and better community in every way) helps us do this. But working with unions also entails sometimes-difficult negotiations, which even when they are resolved successfully — as our most recent talks with UFCW Local 655 were — can leave lingering resentments.”
The truth is, we will not always agree with employers. There will be, as Schnuck stated in his article, “lingering resentments.” At times decisions will be made that leave one party or another bitter.
But these are, or at least should be, short-term roadblocks on a long, winding path toward growing a market in St. Louis that employs tens of thousands of union workers, our union grocery chains.
I have no doubt there will be more challenges to come, more disagreements. But I also have no doubt that Schnucks, Dierbergs, Shop ‘n Save and Straubs, and the hard-working members of UFCW Local 655, have the same long-term goals: a growing business, better wages, superior benefits and a stronger St. Louis.
These goals are only attainable if every union worker does their part in protecting quality middle class jobs with good benefits by SHOPPING UNION! In our grocery stores, absolutely, but also in every union sector.
Shop local, boycott Walmart, unique union TV ad urges
“…Kroenke may have taken our team, but they are never going to take away who we are… so SHOP LOCAL, NOT WALMART,” concludes UFCW Local 655 and 88 members at the end of a intriguing and unique 60-second TV commercial now running in the St. Louis market urging shoppers to take their hard-earn union wages to local union supermarkets instead of non-union stores like Walmart and others.
Here’s the point the commercial makes with Local 655 and Meat, Deli and Seafood Workers Local 88 members as the spokespersons:
“In tough times, we don’t run. We work together! Except if your Stan Kroenke. A Wal-Mart Billionaire. He took our Rams to Los Angeles.”
“We just didn’t lose a football team, we lost good jobs.”
“He hurt our economy, our families.”
“He turned his back on us.”
“Our values! Our town! And for what?”
“So he could make millions more?”
“Well we may not have our Rams, but this football Sunday,”
“We can all send Stan and Walmart a message.”
“SHOP LOCAL! NOT WALMART!”
“Shop ‘n Save!”
“Stand up for community.”
“Put our family first.”
“Because Kroenke may have taken our team, but they are never going to take away who we are.”