By DAVID A. COOK
UFCW 655 President
It’s something we’ve talked about at Local 655 at great length during my time as your President. It’s how we drive up wages and benefits for all workers and create better jobs. It’s how unions secure more power at the bargaining table, and it’s why organizing is such a critical part of the role unions play in our society.
Organizing is a unique challenge. Anyone who has worked in organizing at our local will tell you that it can be exhausting and even frustrating. The deck is already stacked in favor of companies who hold mandatory captive-audience meetings with their employees and pressure them to vote against their best interests.
Organizers often get to know the workers looking to join a union family well. They meet their families, hear their stories and learn about their struggles. This makes losing a campaign emotionally taxing.
Sometimes, though, a campaign that loses or flounders isn’t a lost cause. Just recently Local 655 experienced a campaign like this one.
ORGANIZING ATTEMPTS CAN HAVE RESIDUAL EFFECTS
For months, we’ve been talking to workers at a General Mills facility in Hannibal. We’ve gotten union authorization cards signed, met with workers and built a campaign focused on the wages and benefits that they deserve. During that time, the company did what companies do: lied about our union and intimidated workers.
As we got closer and closer to being ready to call for a union election, General Mills conducted their annual performance reviews for all their workers. In past years, they’ve averaged about a two percent pay increase as a result of these reviews.
This year, that number went up. Most employees got at least a three percent raise. The additional bump in pay was meant to keep workers happy and force the union to back down in the face of this new “generosity” from General Mills.
It may very well have worked. General Mills took a similar approach a few years ago – giving larger pay increases or bonuses than usual in order to back down a movement toward unionization — and it was successful.
You might be reading this and think that we are angry or sad about this, but we aren’t. That’s not to say we are thrilled that this common tactic might work, and that’s not to say that we are thrilled that we might have lost a chance to grow this union family with hundreds of partners.
But the reason we can breathe easy is because we know why those workers got a little extra money in their paycheck: Local 655.
UNIONS HELPING THROUGH THE BACKDOOR
I’ve spoken before about how greater union density drives up the quality of jobs for all workers, and it continues to be true here.
Were it not for our union campaign it’s unlikely that General Mills’s workers would have seen more money in their pockets. And while our mission will always be to grow our union, that mission is a function of an even greater goal: to get workers the better wages and benefits that they have earned.
By that measure this campaign was a success, even if it was a limited success. If our mission is to lift up all workers, then I cannot call campaigns that force employers to pay their workers more money a failure.
If our mission is to create a better world for every single hard-working family, then we must celebrate when non-union employers are forced to do better by unions.