By DAVID A. COOK
When most people think about unions, they think about strikes. That’s not an exaggeration. I’ve seen the data from focus groups around the country. It’s one of the first words they associate with Organized Labor.
Other folks hear the word “union” and they think about contracts or workers’ rights or the end of child labor in America.
They don’t always think about words like “advocacy” or “community building.” That’s not their fault: Labor hasn’t always spent enough time emphasizing the work they do to build up their community.
LOCAL 655 WORKING TO HELP FAMILIES
I can’t speak for other Labor Leaders or union partners, but I can speak for Local 655, and I can tell you that our mission is expanding every day as we seek to do what we’ve always done: help hard-working families get the better life they’ve earned.
Sometimes achieving that better life means bargaining good contracts like the one we recently ratified with Schnucks. Sometimes it means growing the size of our union family like we did recently when we organized the first Goodwill in the state of Missouri. Sometimes it means reaching out to the public to inform them when a local operator — like a politician, or a business owner — isn’t fulfilling their obligations.
LEADING THE CHARGE FOR FAIR TAXATION
On that final point: Some of you reading this may know about Local 655’s current campaign in Wentzville. There, we are informing the public about a new project that flies in the face of good community building, as well as common sense.
In Wentzville, the mayor and city officials are working to levy a sales tax against businesses like Schnucks and Dierbergs. Ordinarily a new sales tax by a local municipality isn’t something that would always grab our attention. What makes this effort so absurd is the purpose of this tax. Wentzville Mayor Nick Guccione is planning the new sales tax to fund a development project in his city, and the sales tax increases will also raise the prices of your Wentzville-area grocery bill.
TAXING PETER TO PAY PAUL: SCHNUCKS AND DIERBERGS TAXED TO BUILD NON-UNION COMPETITOR
One of the new businesses that this development will create is a non-union grocery store.
I have been doing this job for a long time, and I’ve never before seen a city try to tax one business in order to build that business’ competitor.
I’m all in favor of competition in the free market. But to raise prices at Schnucks and Dierbergs to build a store that will be competing with Schnucks and Dierbergs isn’t the free market at all. It’s crony capitalism of the highest order, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.
For the past few weeks, Local 655 has run digital ads targeting Wentzville citizens to let them know just what their leaders plan to do with their higher taxes. Our ads have been viewed tens of thousands of times, and the mayor is feeling renewed pressure to reconsider his position on the project.
The grocery market is competitive in St. Louis, and Local 655 won’t stand by and watch as the playing field is tipped in favor of a non-union employer that doesn’t provide the good jobs and benefits that they should.
FIELDS FOODS TAKES, DOESN’T GIVE
Wentzville isn’t the only project that Local 655 is currently working on to improve communities and raise public awareness.
Right here in St. Louis there is a local operator who isn’t fulfilling his obligations. Chris Goodson owns Fields Foods — a grocery store with a few locations in St. Louis and an aggressive plan to build more – but simply hasn’t acted like someone who cares about the community he is building in.
Goodson has taken millions of dollars in taxpayer money. He’s benefitted from at least $12 million of your tax dollars. The number might be much higher, but Goodson is playing a shell game with his many LLCs and properties, moving around debt and funds to disguise his finances.
FIELDS FOODS IS NOT A FRIEND
Goodson is building stores in what some folks call “food deserts.” He presents himself as a benevolent businessman seeking to bring grocery businesses to underserved communities.
If that were all he was doing, we would applaud this effort. Often times, however, food deserts are also job deserts. And we can’t solve one of those problems without solving the other.
He may be building grocery stores in places where they are few and far between, but he’s not providing good jobs with quality benefits in those same communities. The result? More workers being underpaid and underserved, no true pathway out of poverty, and a continuation of the same cycle of the wealthy, gaining more money while their workers struggle to make ends meet.
STAY INFORMED; STAY FOCUSED
Some of you may have seen our ads targeting Goodson as well. I sincerely believe that as the public becomes more informed about bad operators like Goodson, they will reconsider where they spend their money when buying groceries.
But more importantly than that mission, I sincerely believe these kinds of projects ought to be an area of increased focus for Organized Labor.
The work of organizing and bargaining contracts is, of course, critical. However, it is time for Organized Labor to retake the reins as a force for good in our communities. We ought to be ready to explain to the public who has their best interests at heart, and who is only out to cut corners and exploit your labor.
Unions can, and should be, a force for good for all workers. Unions can, and should be, advocates for hard-working families. Unions can and should be fighting to lift up all those around them.
I can tell you that as long as I have the honor of being your president, Local 655 plans on doing just that.