By DAVID A. COOK
Every three years, we bargain a new contract with Schnucks Markets. As our largest employer by far, this contract ultimately has an effect on others, particularly in retail grocery.
Every three years, there are some similarities. The company talks about competition from non-union employers, they talk about needing to have “more flexibility” in order to compete. They talk about innovation, and they talk about saving money where they can.
And every three years, we talk about the same things. We talk about the hard work our partners do – and make no mistake about it, you, our partners, are doing more than ever before — and how you have helped make the company successful. We talk about the importance of good benefits and how that helps Schnucks retain an experienced workforce. We talk about attracting quality new workers through higher starting wages, and we talk about protecting workers.
This process will feel familiar, even repetitive, for those of you who have been around awhile. But there are some unique and important factors that make this contract cycle a little different.
WORKERS ARE GAINING LEVERAGE
First, the economy is doing well. When unemployment is low, it’s harder to attract new hires if starting wages stay low. Low unemployment means Schnucks and this union have to make an argument as to why these jobs are better than those offered other retail employers. This means this union has some leverage in arguing for higher starting wages and preserving benefits.
Second, there is something happening in America that favors the American worker.
I have been part of the Labor Movement for more than 30 years, and there hasn’t been a time like this. Across the country, workers are fighting for and attaining the better life they’ve earned.
Here in Missouri the people rejected so called “right-to-work for less” and raised the minimum wage. In the last year, we saw teachers successfully strike in West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Colorado, and California.
Every single one of those strikes led to state government taking actions to support those teachers and their pay and benefits.
Just a few weeks ago, your UFCW brothers and sisters in New England working at Stop & Shop went on strike for just over a week because their employer offered an unreasonable proposal. More than 30,000 members stood on picket lines and refused to work unless their employer backed away from slashing healthcare and pension benefits.
Ten days later Stop & Shop did the right thing. It was quite possible the single largest and most effective strike in UFCW history. It was successful not just because the workers knew their worth and knew what was at stake, but because the public stood by them.
PUSHING FOR A PACT YOU DESERVE
These factors combined mean that your local union knows there are certain things that must happen for this contract to be acceptable.
While we had to make hard choices during hard economic times, we know that in 2019 any contract must show that the hard work of our partners is valued through good wages and benefits. We know a contract must take into account the recent acquisition of Shop ’n Save, and we know it must take steps to attract new hires without dipping into the pockets of our long-term partners who helped build this company.
In short, this contract needs to be deserving of you, the people that work so hard every day.
QUALITY CONTRACT TALKS IN PROGRESS
I’m happy to confirm that negotiations began last week. This union and Schnucks gave opening statements and have since exchanged proposals and begun negotiating on specific points.
While we sometimes have disagreements with your employer during this process, your union never looks at our union employers as the enemy. The true enemy is retailers like Walmart that offer substandard benefits to their employees.
Through this process, I have one goal: a mutually agreeable contract that protects workers and allows the company to continue to be competitive.
While it is our goal to finish this contract in a timely fashion it is also our goal to get a quality contract first and foremost. In the choice between a contract that is fast and a contract that is good, I’ll take “good” any day of the week.