Our Union Family Steps Up

Members respond to tragedy with compassion, generosity
In times of sadness, we are comforted and inspired by the ways our Union family responded to the tragic events of recent months.
Together, we witnessed a senseless act of mass violence in Las Vegas, followed by the terrible loss of life, property and jobs in fires throughout Northern California.
Almost simultaneously, our fellow Americans suffered through devastating hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Our members reacted to each of these tragedies with life-affirming generosity.

This is especially evident closest to home. When Secretary-Treasurer Kirk Vogt and I went to Santa Rosa to assess the damage caused by the fires, we were moved deeply by the spirit of our members who lost everything. Through the pain, they focused on the positive side: healing and rebuilding.
When faced with their own seemingly unbearable challenges, they showed their concern for others and their willingness to help each other.

A common comment from those who lost all their material possessions was “It was just stuff.”
In the fires’ aftermath, we were continually reminded of the bonds which connect us to each other and our Union.

We experienced the compassion of our members on a daily basis. When our District Union Representatives (DURs) entered stores in fire-ravaged areas, members immediately asked them, “How are YOU doing?” and “Did YOU lose anything?” These are questions our DURs typically ask the members.

Our representatives worked long days and nights to find the whereabouts of members and determine whether they lost a home and needed shelter or any other kind of assistance.

The DURs and office staff provided valuable information, advising and directing members to the resources available to them. Just as important, they were ready to listen when someone needed to talk about his or her experiences.

The Union website, UFCW8.org, also provided information about assistance available to fire victims.
We’ve witnessed many acts of generosity — to our members as well as store supervisors, managers, vendors, drivers, sales staff and other affected individuals in our industry.

We thank UFCW International President Marc Perrone, our International Union, our sister UFCW Local Unions, the UFCW Northern California Trust Fund employees and our service providers for their generous donations to the UFCW 8-Golden State Disaster Relief Fund.

We also recognize our employers who stepped up — whether it was Safeway paying for housing for nearly two weeks for evacuated employees, or Foster Farms donating $100,000 to a local food bank, or Petaluma Poultry, Save Mart/Lucky, Rite Aid, Raley’s or our other independent retailers providing their assistance to those in need.

Of course, we want to thank the first responders — the firefighters, police and medical personnel who risked their own lives to protect people they’ve never met.

We are one family

In sad times and happier times, Union members don’t lose sight of who we are and why we’re here: people banding together for the common good.

We don’t care about your family background, the color of your skin, how old you are, whom you worship (or don’t), or the language you speak. We march together and won’t stop until everyone can share in the bounty of our amazing country.

This is why, in our Union, we call each other Sisters and Brothers. We are family.

Solidarity Works!

Stewards Fortify Value and Values of Our Union

Our Union completed a series of workshops for Stewards across the length and breadth of our jurisdiction, from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south and from Santa Rosa near the coast to Lake Tahoe at the Nevada border.

It’s always productive and informative to meet with so many of our key UFCW 8-Golden State activists. We were inspired by the stories they shared of coworkers who were helped through personal struggles and workplace-related problems by their Union.

At the same time, the Stewards were given a thorough update on the extraordinary value of Union membership, which delivers not only higher wages, but also superior health care, retirement security through defined benefit pensions (increasingly rare in today’s world), vacations, sick leave, workplace protections and a host of other benefits.

After adding up the economic value of these benefits, we find the price of Union membership to be one of the greatest bargains we’ll encounter in our lifetimes. In fact, the ratio of value to cost is about 100 to 1!

In the Summer 2017 issue of Voice of Action and in other Union communications, we’ll share with you some of the information we provided to the Stewards as well as some of the touching stories they shared with us.

In a time of deep divisions among people in our country and around the world, it is comforting to meet so many good people who live in the spirit of unity, of brotherhood and sisterhood.

When so many are focused on tearing others down to build themselves up, we as Union members dedicate ourselves to creating a world in which all of our fellow human beings can lift their heads toward a brighter future.

Our Stewards exemplify these Union values. They are selfless people who volunteer their time and energies to helping their coworkers get more and keep more for themselves and their loved ones.
Through their dedication, these UFCW 8 Stewards are critical to our Union’s success as we serve the needs and aspirations of 35,000 members across thousands of square miles.

We are proud of our full-time staff of approximately 100 District Union Representatives, office staff and support personnel, but we can’t do the job all by ourselves. Our Stewards assist every day by acting as the eyes, ears, heart and soul of UFCW 8-Golden State.

Together, we commit ourselves to protecting and strengthening the value and values of our Union.

Solidarity Works!

The Road to Retirement Security

CORPaTH Works Toward a Brighter Future for Workers

CORPaTH is an alliance of financial experts, pension fund trustees, Union leaders and other professionals dedicated to rescuing the dream of a secure retirement for working people.

In just a few years, the annual CORPaTH Summit has emerged as the premier forum for analyzing the nature and causes of the worldwide pension crisis and providing workable solutions.

The problem takes many forms, but the issue affecting most Americans is their employers’ abandonment of traditional defined-benefit pensions in favor of defined-contribution plans like 401(k)s.
Here’s the difference: Defined-benefit pensions like the ones enjoyed by most Union members provide guarantees of a steady income during retirement. Defined-contribution plans, on the other hand, are funded primarily by employees and provide no guarantees at all.

In a 401(k) plan, an employee is expected to put money aside every month into a special fund which is invested in the stock market or other money-making ventures to build up equity over the years. If all goes well, the worker has gathered a nice nest egg by the time he or she retires.

The problem is things rarely work out the right way. The average worker has no idea how to properly manage funds in an investment portfolio and doesn’t have the means to endure severe downturns like the one we experienced in the Great Recession of a few years ago.

Furthermore, most workers have to deal with such competing priorities as financing a child’s wedding or college education. Confronted with few options,  any choose to borrow from their retirement funds.
Because of these factors and more — such as high investment fees and longer life spans — we are heading for a catastrophe of huge proportions.

Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research finds 52 percent of U.S. households are at risk of running low on money during retirement, up from 31 percent of households in 1983.

Approximately 45 percent of all households currently have NOTHING saved for retirement, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security.

In his outstanding recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Timothy W. Martin reports how even the creators of the 401(k) plan are saying they regret the suffering their creation has caused.

“I helped open the door for Wall Street to make even more money than they were already making,” said Ted Benna, who first formulated the idea in 1980.

“That is one thing I do regret,” he told Martin.

“We weren’t social visionaries,” said Herbert Whitehouse, another innovator of the 401(k).

Damage has been done, but regrets aren’t enough to repair it. This is why CORPaTH exists.

CORPaTH is developing strategies to strengthen traditional defined-benefit pensions and reverse the trend in which employers have been pushing their workers onto 401(k) plans.

To this end, the organization is a proud supporter of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. These principles encourage transparency and accountability by corporations toward their investors, which include pension funds administered jointly by Unions and their affiliated employers.

CORPaTH also advocates letting these pension funds use criteria for investment which take their own interests in account. For example, a Union fund shouldn’t be forced to invest in anti-Union companies.

Recently, we were pleased to learn Tom Perez, the outgoing secretary of Labor under former President Obama, has listened to us and issued new rules to improve corporate accountability to investors.

We have a long road ahead, but through coalitions like CORPaTH, we can make real progress toward achieving retirement security for millions of working people who deserve it.

Irrational Hyperbole and Contempt vs. Reason and Respect

Regardless of your political persuasion, there has been no shortage of ironic hypocrisy, hostility, cynical sniping, sarcastic smugness, labeling, hate speak and irrational hyperbole over the last several months leading up to the presidential election.
Comedians and political pundits have made careers out of it and we all have friends and family who are terrific at slicing and dicing the politics of today.

Sometimes it feels good to be snarky in your observations of those you have differences of opinion and it can surely feel more safe to remain insulated in your world-view bubble.

It isn’t likely this type of behavior is going to end any time soon. After all, it is a traditional aspect of free speech in our country.

That being said, the toxicity has reached dangerous levels that do not suggest anything but more bitter differences for the near future, and that is troubling as we wrestle with finding our way toward a future we can all be proud of in this great country.

Keeping an open mind with people who seem closed to your views is extremely difficult to do and treating others with respect while they hold your views or even you in contempt requires superhuman patience and tolerance. Nonetheless, this is what we need to strive for if we are going to find a path to civility and productivity. The recent presidential campaign did more than expose an already existing divide between two Americas occupying the same land. It drove a wedge into our common ground, separating parents from children, wives from husbands, rural folk from urban folk, people who have college degrees and people who don’t.

Era of toxic rhetoric

In the 1960s, the generations were split by diverging opinions concerning the war in Vietnam, civil rights, popular music and other issues of a society in transformation. But we’d have to go back to the 1860s to find an era when the rhetoric was so pervasively toxic.

Abraham Lincoln saw the storm gathering as he delivered his first inaugural address in January 1861. Even as the newly formed Confederate States of America gathered its troops, the new president pleaded for restraint in word, thought and deed:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

It is tragic that his words fell on deaf ears. Within three months, Americans marched to war against each other. More than 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War and more than a million were injured before it ended.

No one expects the social divisions of our day will lead to massive death and destruction on this scale. But I’m not alone in thinking the fabric of American society has been torn in ways that won’t be easy to mend.

Nevertheless, we must try.

We can begin by reminding ourselves we are all sisters and brothers of the American republic. Wherever we come from, whenever we got here, whatever we believe, we share a common history of devotion to a common ideal of a nation dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and our government is created by the people and for the people.

Mother Teresa, now known as Saint Teresa, wasn’t an American, but she knew the score when she said: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

As Union members and Americans, we must never forget we belong to each other. We must always try to reach into our own hearts and find the “better angels of our nature.”

We can disagree strongly with others’ opinions, but we must never, ever treat each other with contempt. We must pull back from words of hate and choose instead the words of love.

I would like to end this column by wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season and a new year filled with joy and brotherhood (and sisterhood). Thank you for all of your work in making our Union stronger, and thank you for proving to the world, time and time again…

Solidarity Works!