By DAVID A. COOK
It’s been more than three years since the UFCW Region 6 Conference, the longest span we’ve had without one that I can remember due to the COVID pandemic. Last week, some of our Local 655 staff as well as myself headed to Kansas City to join UFCW locals from across our region — largely the rest of the Midwest — to attend classes, exchange ideas and discuss the future of our organizations.
Classes ranged from sharpening our digital toolkit to practicing diversity and inclusion to the growing cannabis industry across the region. After spending a few days hearing from our speakers and meeting with other Local staff members and leaders, I was reminded why these conferences are so valuable.
It’s not the classes — although they can be enlightening — or the keynote speakers. It’s the opportunity to have frank discussions with other union officials, sometimes over a drink or a meal, about how to improve our organizations. These conversations about best practices, pitfalls to avoid, tips to improving servicing or organizing are often the most illuminating parts of these conferences.
I’ve been on staff at Local 655 for 34 years, so I feel confident saying that I know quite a lot about how Labor organizations can and should operate. However, I never leave these conferences without some new idea which often comes from a fellow union leader during a simple discussion about the important issues.
IMPACT ON OTHER LOCALS
Likewise, I share what I think Local 655 has done well with my fellow presidents and watch as those best practices suddenly become implemented in other states across the country. I can’t count how many times Local 655 has gotten something right and influenced other Locals to do the same, and I can’t emphasize how much I’ve learned from simply picking the brains of my fellow union staffers and leaders.
Individually, we all have limitations. There’s only so much space in our brains, only so much energy in our bodies, and only so many hours per day. When we combine our total experiences, when we put our collective heads together, UFCW is simply overflowing with information and ideas and experiences.
We don’t thrive if we don’t work together and share our knowledge, and I’m happy to report that I was able to not only share some of the things we’ve done well recently — like our new contractual language for flexible workers and our historic wage increases — but also pick up a few ideas on how to improve Local 655 going forward.
Even more importantly, Local 655 staff was able to share knowledge with their counterparts from Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and more. This experience is invaluable, because hearing from other organizations lets us know where we are strong, and where we can do better.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Although many have joked about my longevity, I won’t be around forever, and the staff that will lead this organization into the future for the next generation of workers needs as much input as possible in order to steer Local 655 into unknown waters.
I don’t entirely know what’s next for Local 655:
- I know the cannabis industry will continue to expand in Missouri. Will Local 655 play a role in securing good wages and benefits for those workers? Time will tell.
- Will we continue to explore new ways to communicate with you, our partners, and how will our communication landscape change?
- How will automation impact our industry?
- How will we continue to manage stable and well-funded benefits during economic uncertainty?
- Will we continue to forge relations with our sister Local, Local 88, to strengthen our contracts for all retail food workers?
These are just a few of the unknowns, and a few of the reasons we have to continue to collaborate with our Brothers and Sisters in Labor to make sure we’re meeting these challenges with the best possible chances of success for all our partners we serve.
OUR MISSION CONTINUES
We didn’t solve the world’s problems in our few days in Kansas City. We didn’t right every wrong or answer every question.
We simply continued our mission: to serve our partners with the best possible quality and to fight for good jobs for all workers.