Solidarity Wins


We’ve had a hectic few weeks since my last column. As many of you probably know, our union family with UFCW Local 88 authorized a strike earlier this month as they continued their negotiations with Schnucks. Rather than immediately going out on strike, Local 88 leadership, with an overwhelming  strike authorization, chose to go back to negotiations.

Strikes are a key tool in Labor’s arsenal, and sometimes they are necessary, but as my mentor Jack Valenti said “Anyone can take their membership out on strike – the key is avoiding a strike,” and that is often in the best interests of everyone.

As the President of Local 655, I made it very clear to all parties, Local 88, the International and most importantly Schnucks what Local 655 would do in the event of a strike by our sister Local 88. We would stand in support of them just as they did for us when we were on strike in 2003. An injury to one is an injury to all, and solidarity across the Labor Movement is what makes us strong.

Unions have a consistent goal which is to secure a better life for hard-working people. Securing a good union contract without having to strike and set up a picket line is the best outcome.

I’m happy to report that Local 88 secured a new contract proposal from Schnucks and passed this proposal with 87 percent approval. This new contract is well-earned for our union family in Local 88. I applaud Local 88 for closing the gap between our two locals and securing some basic benefits that their members deserve — benefits long enjoyed by Local 655— such as paid sick days, and premium pay for work on holidays to mention a few.

Ultimately, we will always be tied together with Local 88. As their president said at their ratification meeting “Local 655 paved the way for much of what 88 was able to acquire in this contract.” Our work in previous negotiations helped give them a path to a good contract.

While all this was going on, a major Labor story has dominated national news headlines. Most of you are probably aware the Writer’s Guild of America has been on strike for several weeks as they fight for their fair share of the record profits enjoyed by the streaming services like Netflix, Disney, HBO, and more. They’ve committed to staying on strike as long as it takes until the most profitable entertainment studios in the nation finally agree to fair pay for their work.

Last week, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) authorized their own strike in solidarity with the WGA and in response to equally unrealistic proposals from the major studios. It’s easy to think of this as an example of the “wealthiest” people in America complaining about their pay. Let’s remember that most actors in America aren’t Tom Cruise or Meryl Streep. Most actors are working small gigs, or standing in the background of our favorite shows and movies. Studio representatives in Hollywood made a proposal that evidently served as the straw that broke the camel’s back in negotiations.

Those studios proposed using AI and computer technology to “scan” the appearance of background actors and use their likeness in forever and ever with no payments for the actors and actresses.

Is there anything more ghoulish than an obscenely wealthy corporation proposing owning your actual likeness forever, and using it however they want? Treating workers like actual property: a commodity that can be bought and sold that has no pulse, is a staple of the darkest kind of corporate evil.

Shortly before the SAG-AFTRA strike was announced, a studio executive anonymously told a Hollywood reporter that “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and their houses.” That same executive called this strategy “a necessary evil.”

This kind of comment should be treated for what it is: the psychotic ravings of an evil person.

I hesitate to use any other word for describing someone who makes record amounts of money publicly stating that their goal is to drive people from their homes and then force those people into an unfair deal out of economic desperation. The cruelty is almost stunning to behold.

While I don’t wish a strike on anyone, I must admit that there is value to the Labor Movement in a strike that is so large and so present in the public eye. Most Americans have a favorite television show or movie. A strike this broad and set for a long haul will impact content in such a way that virtually every American will notice. Major studios are already delaying movie and television projects because they won’t have writers to finish scripts or actors to put on camera. Picket lines outside of major studios like Disney are turning around Teamster-driven trucks and bringing productions to a standstill.

The Hollywood strike is a prime example of the importance of solidarity in the Labor Movement, and a commitment to support our fellow union partners in the fight for fair pay in exchange for hard work.


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