By DAVID A. COOK
It’s that time of year again — those frantic few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas — when most of our partners working in grocery stores are as busy as ever. Last year, we were also facing this time of year as the COVID winter surge struck and there was no vaccine available. This year, circumstances are different, but not entirely.
This time last year, just before the worst of the surge, we were losing at least 1,500 Americans every day to COVID. This year, that number as of this writing was right around 1,000. It’s still too high.
What makes it especially challenging is that we know that the vast majority of deaths this time around are preventable. More than 95 percent of all deaths nationwide due to COVID are among the unvaccinated.
Vaccinated people are far less likely to become seriously ill and far, far less likely to die from COVID, but a combination of ugly politics and misinformation has somehow made the vaccine a partisan debate rather than a commonsense solution.
Despite all of this, we know what grocery stores will look like for the next few weeks. The public will pack themselves in at record numbers to get everything they need for their family gatherings, and Local 655 partners will be working longer hours than ever. As I’ve stated before, those partners will also be working in many places that are vastly understaffed. Longer hours, more responsibilities, a stressful work environment, and a pandemic that just won’t end.
FIRST ROUND OF CONTRACT MEETINGS
By the time many of my partners read this, we’ll have completed our first round of opening contract meetings for employees at Schnucks and Dierbergs. At these meetings, I talked about the challenges of negotiating under these new conditions, and I also talked about the remarkable work those same employees have done.
If you work in a grocery store as one of our partners, you know precisely what I’m referring to: your dedicated work to help the public during a global pandemic, your incredible work ethic during a historic shift in the labor market, your commitment to your job and to each other.
As we enter into negotiations early next year, I’m eager to remind your employers and the general public just what you’ve been doing these past two years. I am also cautious about the prospect of overreaching in this coming contract and hastening the rise of automation to replace our good jobs.
LESSONS OF THE PANDEMIC
I also know that we have new concerns brought on by this pandemic which we’ve never faced before, and we have to use this as an opportunity to try to anticipate what needs to be done in the face of some new crisis that could arise someday.
As we consider all these factors, I find my thoughts consistently drifting back to our partners working in grocery stores. I find myself thinking about working parents trying to make ends meet and raise their families, I think about long-term employees approaching retirement counting on their pension to be there when they need it. I think about the part-time employee with chronic health problems who needs this job because of the excellent healthcare benefits, and I think about younger workers thinking more about maximizing their take home pay and less about things like pension and healthcare.
VALUABLE MEMBERS OF THEIR COMMUNITIES
During this time of year the public relies so much on these workers and sometimes I worry that they don’t really see them. They don’t see these men and women and their stories, they just see a cog in a machine, a person swiping items in a checkout lane or loading products onto shelves.
The next Local 655 contract with our major employers needs to reflect something different: that those workers are not interchangeable parts in a machine, that they are valuable and important pieces of their community that help families put food on their tables.
To my Local 655 partners I want to say this — you are working harder than ever, but I see you. You are stressed and busy and continuing to work despite the pandemic that still rages on, but I see you. You have my commitment and the commitment of everyone here on our staff that we will fight for you today, tomorrow and every day after that.
In the meantime stay safe, find some time to be with your loved ones, and keep doing what you’ve been doing all along.
Be safe this holiday season!
Sadly, every year during the holidays our grocery stores see a spike in theft.
The number one priority of this Local and our employers is
the safety of employees.
Remember: your employer is insured, and there is no reason to confront anyone attempting to steal in your store.
Do not put yourself or your customers in danger,
and stay safe!