By DAVID A. COOK
I was fortunate enough to visit some of our stores in the past few weeks, both to attend some long-term partner retirements and also just to meet and chat with some of the hard-working folks that make our union great.
During those visits, I found that many people began asking me the same question: “Dave, I hear you’re retiring soon, is that true?”
In a literal sense I suppose it is, depending on how you define “soon.” I’ve been working for this local for 35 years and a member of this local for even more years. So when you consider that my retirement may come in just a few short years, then maybe you could consider that to be “soon.”
The fact of the matter remains that I’m not heading out the door just yet, because there is still work to be done, and because I refuse to exit this organization until I am confident that I have done my part to secure its future without me.
I’m thrilled with what I’ve been able to accomplish with my time representing our amazing partners and leading my wonderful staff.
- We were the first state to overturn so-called ‘right-to-work.’
- We played a key role in raising the minimum wage.
- We secured a new pension fund for our Dierbergs partners that ensures benefits and allows the company to invest in growth, which they have.
- Earlier this year we ratified the most lucrative contract in decades for our major employers.
- We’re renovating the union hall to bring the Health & Welfare office back into this building, consolidating all our services once again under the same roof.
- We’ve advanced the way we communicate and dramatically increased the input we get from our partners, especially during bargaining.
- We became the first union to march in the St. Louis Pride Parade and we secured benefits for transgender partners.
- We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity.
I could go on. I am deeply proud of what we’ve accomplished during my time as President of Local 655, but I also must admit there are some things still left to be done. Several years ago – early in my time as your president — I wrote a lengthy “vision of the future” for our partners, outlining many ambitious goals. While I’m excited to say we’ve lived up to many of those goals, there are still items on our list.
I have talked at great length about the need to grow this union. We’ve had some organizing success — we recently began organizing medical cannabis workers in Missouri and have won multiple elections just this year. There’s still work to be done. Growth has to be at the forefront of what we do, and I’m working to find every way to take advantage of the clear pro-worker trend we see across the country right now. If we do not take advantage of this moment, it would be a historic waste of possibilities.
I’ve spoken at length about automation and the potential threat it poses to our jobs. While we want our employers to remain competitive — going out of business is bad for everyone — we also have to find a way to ensure that our partners and this organization can function as automation changes our industry. This means finding creative solutions to ensure that automation doesn’t pose a threat to our healthy benefit funds and finding new industries to organize where the automation threat doesn’t loom so close.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a good leader does not step aside without ensuring that the future is on a path for success without them. If I do not help put this union in the best possible place to succeed before I retire then many of the things we’ve accomplished won’t matter much. Local 655 is much more than David Cook. Local 655 is thousands and thousands of hard-working men and women across this state and dozens of staffers in multiple areas of expertise all working toward a single goal: a better life for all workers.
Local 655 can — and will — continue to serve this goal when I am long gone. It’s my responsibility to make sure I’ve set a course for that to happen before I consider stepping away.
Yes, I will retire one day — but that day is not set in stone, not even for me — because I do not measure the right time to retire by a date on a calendar or a number on a pension check, or the years I’ve logged on this planet. That date will be determined by what we are able to accomplish over the coming years and how we forge a path for Local 655 to succeed well into the future.
I’ll continue to serve this organization and our partners as I have done for 35 years, and I will end my service only when it’s truly the right time to end it.