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Secretary-Treasurer’s Report

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RICHARD BARRERA
Secretary-Treasurer

Preparing Ourselves for the Big Challenges Ahead

On the national and local levels, our union is responding to several major challenges.

Currently, in 28 states, members can have the benefits of a union without contributing to their union. Some politicians call this “Right to Work.” The more accurate term is “Work for Less.” Work for Less laws weaken unions and both union and non-union workers earn less money, have inferior and more expensive health benefits, and typically have little retirement security.

Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress want national Work for Less. They are currently working on a bill that would include us.

Additionally we have an industry where companies are trying to automate our jobs away – automated checkout, automated delivery and automated inventory. And in our communities, we face a rising cost of living primarily from skyrocketing housing costs.

What we know from experience and history is when working people face threats from politicians, employers and face challenges in our communities, the only thing that can push back against these threats is a strong labor movement, and a strong labor movement comes from working people standing together to build our union.

The question for all of us is, what are the key issues that will motivate us to get active?

Our UFCW International and our Western States Council have started to ask our members that question.

In Work for Less states, our International has conducted focus groups asking what motivates members to join and get active in the union. The responses from workers in those states focus on a few clear ideas. First, workers want to know the actual value in dollars and cents that a union contract provides for themselves and their families.

When we compare the wages and benefits that union workers receive to non-union workers doing similar jobs, the difference runs from several thousands of dollars a year for newly hired part-time workers to tens of thousands of dollars per year for experienced full-time workers. Also, union workers retire with guaranteed pensions that can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to non-union workers who retire with nothing.

Workers also want to understand how their involvement in the union can make a difference.

The simple answer is that when more of us join together by coming to union meetings, paying attention to contract negotiations, attending rallies and walking picket lines when necessary, we get stronger contracts.

In Southern California, we have the strongest UFCW contracts anywhere in the nation, which is a direct result of the activism we have demonstrated since the 2003-2004 strike all the way through last year’s contract negotiations with the major grocery stores.

The more we engage, the better off our families are. It’s that simple.

At the political and community level, our UFCW Western States Council recently conducted a telephone survey asking members, “What are the issues that will motivate us to vote, and to come out and walk precincts and volunteer for phone banks?”

According to the survey, UFCW members care most about affordable health care for everybody (what some people call single-payer health care), more affordable housing, more protection for immigrant families and policies that strengthen unions.

For now, most of us enjoy a welcome relief from elections, but UFCW Local 135 will be back at it in force in 2018 when we will elect a new governor of California. We will have a chance to elect members of congress who support workers – not corporations, and we will have a number of important state and local elections, and ballot initiatives.

We will soon reach out to you to ask you what you care about most and how you can get involved to make a difference on the issues that most affect you and your families and then engage each other in understanding how we build a stronger union together.

It’s true that we face big challenges, even threats, but it’s also true that we can flip these challenges into opportunities.