By DAVID A. COOK
In the past few weeks our two largest employers, Schnucks and Dierbergs, both announced additional money for their employees. Schnucks and Dierbergs have both announced higher starting wages for new employees, as well as holiday bonuses for all employees. Those increases and bonuses are different for both companies, but they are signs that both companies are working toward addressing several important issues.
The first issue that both of these companies face is the inability to attract and retain new employees. There are numerous reasons for this, but both Schnucks and Dierbergs are addressing one of the primary causes: starting wages are too low to hire or maintain entry-level workers. By increasing those wages, they hope to draw in new employees and retain them longer than they have been recently.
‘BUT WHAT ABOUT MY WAGES?’
For long-term employees, this might seem like some kind of insult. I understand that gut reaction, but if we take a moment to consider all the factors, I think our long-term partners of Local 655 will understand that this is the best scenario for them, and I’ll explain why.
First and foremost, the inability to hire and keep new people is part of the reason that our long-term employees are working harder than ever before. They’re working longer hours with less help during an incredibly demanding time with the continued increased sales since the pandemic and with the holidays just around the corner. Many of those employees are rightfully asking “but what about my wages?”
BARGAINING A NEW CONTRACT
They are right to ask this, but let’s remember something: UFCW Local 655 will begin bargaining by February of next year on a new contract with both these employers.
Those of you that have been around for a while know that these companies bargain over the top rate and capped rate wage rates and generally put more money in the wages of top-earning and long-term partners in the contract because, let’s be honest, those are the employees that vote.
In the past this has resulted in a troubling trend: long-term employees and top-scale wage earners get their money while new hires and short-term employees get very little. That pattern, along with the current labor conditions across the country, are the reason we are seeing a correction now.
I am confident that Local 655 will secure good wage increases for our long-term partners in the next contract. It will be one of our top priorities, and our employers know this. However, they are trying to solve their immediate problem as they face down the holiday rush: understaffing.
With less employees, the long-term employees will work harder than ever. The burden will be on them, and it’s that level of overwork that leads to their natural frustration.
WORKING HARDER THAN EVER
I’ve heard from many of you personally on this issue, and based on numerous conversations with long-term partners there is a clear sentiment you share: you’re working harder than ever (during a pandemic no less) and you are frustrated that people just joining your company are making wages equal to or nearly equal to your own. You feel as though the company isn’t appreciating your service, or that you haven’t been properly compensated for your hard work during this time.
All of those feelings are perfectly valid and I absolutely understand that frustration, but it’s precisely that frustration that is going to help us bargain for higher wages for folks like you in this coming contract. Your company knows that you are frustrated, they know you’re willing to fight for what you’ve worked so hard for, and they know your union has every intention of securing better wages for ALL of you in the coming months.
I understand your frustration, and I couldn’t agree more that far too many of our partners are underpaid and underappreciated, but it’s precisely that level of passion and frustration that will help us make significant strides in our next contract.
WORKERS ARE MOVING IN THE SAME DIRECTION
The fact of the matter is that workers are moving in the same direction in this country.
As of this writing, 10,000 John Deere employees are on strike for the first time in 35 years authorized by an incredible 99 percent vote; 1,500 Kellogg workers are on strike; and 60,000 IATSE workers authorized a strike last week which helped them win a tentative new proposal yet to be voted. Workers across the country are demanding more money for the work they do, as they should, and they are seeking out the jobs that will compensate them the most on Day One of employment and every day thereafter.
As those starting wages are driven up by this wave of worker empowerment, your union is committed to preventing wage compression and making sure our long-term partners are receiving the wages in their next contract that they have earned. By working with our employers to get starting wages increased NOW, we can free up time and resources to devote ourselves to adding more money to the top scale in the future.
WE WILL NOT ALLOW THIS MOMENT TO SLIP BY
There is a clear trend happening in America, and I’m sure many of my partners would agree that it’s long overdue. Workers are finally beginning to do something about their wages, benefits, and working conditions, and they are beginning to understand how much power they have.
Workers that are in a union are even more empowered because they can take collective action and speak with one voice. We will not allow this moment to slip by us, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that all our partners get the better life they deserve.
This transition will be frustrating sometimes, and perhaps even a little painful, but we will get there together.