‘All In’ for Working Families

California Labor Federation backs three organizing campaigns
Most of the recent issue of Voice of Action is dedicated to “All In to Win,” a campaign by the California Labor Federation to support key organizing drives in the state. But before I go into that, I want to share an experience which underscores the need to reach out to young workers.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the drive-through lane at a fast food restaurant in Northern California. I ordered a chicken sandwich and a Diet Coke.

When I pulled up to the window, the young lady inside — she looked like she could be 18 — handed me my food and then asked about the “UFCW 8-Golden State” logo on my shirt.

I replied: “It’s the Union representing people who work in supermarkets and other places.”

“I don’t understand,” she said. “What’s a Union?”

The young woman’s question was disappointing, but not terribly surprising. Many of today’s young people have little or no knowledge of Labor Unions and their historic role in creating the American middle class.

This wasn’t the case in my family when I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. As a third-generation Union activist, I knew Unions empowered working people, making it possible for them to earn good wages, buy their own homes, send their children to college and, when the time came, retire with dignity.

How Unions work: the power of Solidarity

We also knew how Unions work. Even as young children, we understood Solidarity is the key ingredient for a Union’s success in winning a fair share for working people.

My brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, neighbors and schoolmates knew these things as well. We wouldn’t think of crossing a picket line any more than we would consider crossing a busy freeway at rush hour.

So, what happened? How did we reach a situation where an intelligent 18-year-old isn’t even aware of the concept of “Union”?

In the most recent Voice of Action, Secretary-Treasurer Kirk Vogt describes how, 35 years ago, many Americans were seduced by a disastrous political philosophy. This philosophy is based on the mistaken view that everyone would prosper if we changed our policies to favor rich people and corporations over working people.

As a result, companies were allowed to deny the basic human rights of their employees, including their right to join Unions and improve their lives. Union membership began to decline and fewer people learned the values of Union Solidarity to pass on to their children.

It’s time to fight back and rebuild the strength of America’s Unions. Our Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, is proud to lead the way.

Our success will rely a great deal on raising awareness of the “Union Difference.”

In the latest Voice of Actioin, you will see facts and figures showing how Union members have better health care, have more paid vacation days and get better pensions than nonmembers.

Our success also relies on building stronger coalitions with other Unions as we bring word of the Union Difference to more workers at more companies in more industries.

In this spirit, the California Labor Federation, comprised of Unions representing 2.1 million workers in our state, has launched “All In to Win.” As the effort expands, all of these Unions will support three campaigns:

OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart) — Workers at Walmart are standing up for themselves against low wages and abusive treatment by their employer. The “All In” campaign will help these brave workers gain the respect they need.

Taylor Farms — Employees at the world’s largest supplier of fresh-cut vegetables, including packaged salads, are fighting for recognition and dignity. These workers are being organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

USWW (United Security Workers West) — This Labor organization is working to represent the security guards at Apple and Google. Their fight is our fight.

In this issue of Voice of Action, you’ll learn more about these campaigns and the support they are receiving from the member Unions of the California Labor Federation. As a vice president of the California Labor Federation, I am proud of the enthusiastic support expressed by members and staff of UFCW 8-Golden State for the “All In to Win” campaign.

Through this initiative and others, we will rebuild the Union movement in America. And   the day will come when young women and men at fast-food counters and discount stores and salad packaging plants will all know and appreciate the benefits of working Union.

Solidarity Works! 

Steward Solidarity

Thirty years ago, our Union embarked on a new project, the Stewards Program. The idea was to engage our most dedicated rank-and-file activists as we forged a stronger, more cohesive and better-informed membership.

In each workplace a member would be selected to serve as the “eyes and ears” of the Union and share the principles of Union Solidarity with his or her coworkers.

A year later, on May 15, 1985, 154 members of UFCW 588 gathered for their first Stewards Seminar at the Holiday Inn in downtown Sacramento. We presented speakers from the California Legislature, as well as representatives of the UFCW International Union and other special guests. We also viewed a videotape (remember those?) on the history of the United Food and Commercial Workers and a film on organizing non-Union businesses.

Our president emeritus, Jack L. Loveall, launched the seminar with these words: “This is just the beginning — an orientation to a Stewards Program that will be the lifeblood of our Union!”

We had confidence in our success because we knew the caliber of our most committed members. What  took us by surprise was the degree of our success.

Our last Stewards Convention drew 600 Union activists from all parts of UFCW 8-Golden State’s jurisdiction, from the Oregon border in the north to Bakersfield in the south.

UFCW 8 Stewards Conference

Our Stewards are energized by our programs. Over the years, they have been inspired by celebrities, political officeholders, courageous Walmart employees and leaders in the Labor and Civil Rights communities who urged them to stand up and raise their voices for Union solidarity.

We have also helped give our Stewards a strong grounding in the history of the Labor Movement. We do this because it is important to appreciate the sacrifices of those who lived before us so we can enjoy the benefits of things we take for granted — things like safety standards and overtime pay.

As we move forward through the second decade of the 21st century, we will continue to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going.

Our Union has always been strong on innovation, but the core principle of our Union has remained  unchanged since that day in 1984 when the first group of activists joined our Stewards Program. In fact, it extends back to our organization’s founding in 1937.

This principle is summed up by two powerful words:

Solidarity Works!

Your Union Stands Up for You

The pending acquisition of Safeway by Cerberus Capital Management, owner of Albertsons and other retail chains, provides additional evidence of a new wave of consolidation in the supermarket industry.

Fortunately, our members have UFCW 8-Golden State to stand up for them through this time of uncertainty.

Prior to the Cerberus-Safeway deal, the giant grocery conglomerate Kroger Inc. revealed it had purchased Harris Teeter, an upscale chain based in the southeastern U.S.

These companies and others have stated they need to be bigger to take on Walmart, which has been the country’s top-volume grocer for at least a decade. Walmart is infamous for using its size
to force its suppliers to cut costs and gain a competitive edge.

In recent years we’ve observed similar trends of consolidation in the airline, banking and telecommunications industries.

While we’ve seen companies come and go, one thing remains constant: our Union. In our 77-year history, UFCW 8-Golden State has built a remarkable record in fighting for the best interests of our members. Our only priority is service to our Union sisters and brothers.

Regardless of what happens in the course of the Cerberus-Safeway merger, we will do everything in our power to ensure our members’ contractual and legal rights are protected.

This holds true for any development in the corporate offices and work sites affecting our Union family.

In addition to contract enforcement, UFCW 8-Golden State works tirelessly to negotiate the best wages, benefits and job protections in the industries we serve, from wholesale meat processors to distilleries to doctors’ offices.

We also fight to safeguard your job by protecting Union market share (see our cover story on the closing of Fresh Markets in Sacramento as a recent and vivid example).

We fight for better laws in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to give working families a break. We fight in the courts — most recently winning a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court (see page 7) — to protect the legal rights of workers to speak up.

We build alliances to uphold guaranteed lifetime security for people who retire. And we strive constantly to provide added benefits to our members, including discounts, access to special services and valuable tools for achieving financial security.

All of these Union achievements and more are possible because ...

Solidarity Works!

Haves and Have-Nots

Unions are the solution for the growing income gap

The stock market is booming and investors are getting rich. So why does everyone else feel so poor?

The answer is both simple to state and sad to contemplate. As the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman recently pointed out, 95 percent of the gains from the economic recovery since 2009 have gone to 1 percent of the population.

“In fact,” Krugman wrote in The New York Times, “more than 60 percent of the gains went to the top 0.1 percent, people with annual incomes of more than $1.9 million.”

In the meantime, America’s middle and working classes are consigned to picking up the table scraps left by the feasting elites. We see employment levels inching up slowly, but the new jobs tend to pay much less than those that were lost in the Great Recession.

The result is a growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, now a professor at UC Berkeley, points out in his current documentary film, Inequality for All, 400 Americans now have more wealth than 150 million citizens who comprise the “bottom half” of the economy.

New aristocracy

We are in danger of becoming a society in which a small aristocratic nobility rules over a vast population of commoners. Didn’t we fight a revolution against that kind of system?

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called attention to the growing crisis threatening the middle class. During his speech, he called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. He also called for extending benefits for the long-term unemployed. And throughout his address he tossed around the buzzword “opportunity.”

That’s all well and good. We should support these initiatives wholeheartedly. Everybody is in favor of “opportunity.”  But the president failed to mention the obvious solution, which is to empower working people to assert themselves and claim their fair share of economic growth.

We can restate that solution in a single word: Unions.

We need to fix America’s labor laws to create more opportunities to join Unions so more workers can participate in collective bargaining and enjoy the benefits of Union contracts.

A proven solution

This worked spectacularly the last time our country dealt seriously with a crisis of the middle class. The National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935 at the worst point of the Great Depression, facilitated a rapid expansion of Unions, which in turn led to a strong middle class and the richest economy the world has ever seen.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “If I went to work in a factory, the first thing I'd do is join a Union,” he was demonstrating leadership that empowered a generation.

Unfortunately, American corporations and their advocates in government have devised ways to reverse the historic growth of Unions, leaving our work force weaker, fearful and progressively poorer. This must change if we want to achieve an economy for all of us, not just the super-rich.

A couple of years ago, many well meaning citizens chose to express their frustration over income inequality through the Occupy movement. Unfortunately, this movement had little focus and offered no comprehensive solution for the crisis. It had the effect of venting steam that could have been channeled toward fixing our broken system.

It’s time for Americans to gather together again, but this time with focus on such vital areas as pensions, health care and, above all, the right to organize, organize, organize.

As members of UFCW 8-Golden State already know, Solidarity Works!