By DAVID A. COOK
We’ve used this space:
- To discuss our relationship with Goodwill many times before.
- To discuss our campaign there, where workers reached out to us and then did the hard work of leading the charge to win their union election at the Festus location.
- To tell you about how Goodwill was deliberately slow-walking negotiations, delaying any bargaining long enough to mount an anti-union campaign to try to convince workers to decertify, citing the slow negotiation process that they caused as proof that bargaining was a hopeless prospect.
- To tell you that the MERS Goodwill CEO, Dave Kutchback, gave himself six-figure bonuses while paying his employees poverty wages.
- To tell you that too many of these men and women rely on government assistance while their employer collects millions of dollars in tax breaks for being “charitable.”
Now, it is with no particular joy that we are using this space to announce that workers at the Goodwill in Festus have voted to strike. I’ve said it before: no one likes to strike. Strikes are hard, they require great discipline and they require workers to make hard financial choices.
We just wrapped up a successful strike last month at McKesson — a strike that was no easy feat to keep going. While the Goodwill strike is different, it is still a final resort for workers. We don’t take this lightly.
It’s at this moment that I remind you all the official MERS Goodwill mission statement is “changing lives through the power of work.” That phrase keeps popping up in my mind as I write this. I think about it a lot, especially knowing how they have conducted themselves as their workers seek to do exactly that: change their lives.
WE’VE HEARD THIS STORY BEFORE
I won’t bore you with the gritty details of this contract, because those details don’t really help folks understand the larger story here.
That story begins with a company that relies entirely on the donations of others to function. They take the old clothes, furniture, or assorted household items you don’t want or need anymore, and they sell them back to the public, sometimes at cheap prices. Of course their prices are cheap: they get the products for free!
The story goes on: the company has employees who wish to join a union family. They contact a local union; they are interested in holding an election to decide for themselves. You probably know this part of the story: the supposedly charitable company lies about unions, does everything it can to put an end to this union election.
“Changing lives through the power of work.”
Despite everything the company does, the story goes on and the workers vote for a union! In a just world, the story would end there and the reader would know this was a happy ending. Sadly, we don’t live in that world, so the story goes on.
The company does everything they can to drag out negotiations because they already have a plan. After a year passes, the company knows that employees can vote to decertify. They delay, and delay, and delay, and then they act dishonestly and trigger a decertification election.
Despite everything the company has done, the workers win again, and they vote to remain in their union and keep fighting for a union contract. Again, this would be the happy ending in a just world, but we don’t live in that world.
So, the workers returned to the bargaining table and the company does what you’re probably expecting: anything they can to avoid giving workers what they deserve.
“Changing lives through the power of work.”
Then, the company comes back to the table with a last, best and final offer, and it’s not an acceptable offer. It will not help these workers get off the government assistance they are forced to rely on, it will not help them get the time off that they’ve earned, or give them the benefits they deserve. It’s a contract which tells us precisely how little Goodwill cares about these workers.
Goodwill — which tells the public how much they love and care about the communities they operate in — is first and foremost concerned about their bottom line. When their own workers decided to take the mission statement in their own hands and improve their lives at work, Goodwill withheld company-wide raises from Festus employees and then falsely blamed it on their union negotiations.
I don’t know how this story will end. What I do know is that this story has been told so many times that I know it by heart, and it’s the story of millions of workers across this country — workers who want nothing more than the wages and benefits that they’ve earned being treated like trash by a company that loves to use flowery language about how good they supposedly are.
We can’t rely on the kindness of CEOs or companies, and we won’t rely on charity. We are a union family, and we are doing one thing, and one thing only: “Changing lives through the power of work.”