So, a couple of weeks ago, June 9th, I believe, we all got phone calls from the Union president stating that Acme had taken a blatantly initimidating step in the negotiating process by sending "us" their "Last, Best, and Final Offer". See, we've been working under an extension of our old contract since February of 2008. The company and the union met 39 times between then and now, and the biggest sticking points were raises, health benefits and pension. That same night we all got phone calls from Acme President Judy Spires explaining that the LBAFO was being sent to us, that it would be in everyone's best interests for us to accept it, and thanking us for all that we do. Since then we've gotten letters and phone calls almost daily from both the company and the union. Every day people from all over Acme Markets have been in our store meeting with us one-on-one and in small groups to answer any questions we have and again explaining to us that this is it--there will be no better offer, and in fact, if we vote against this offer, than the offer could get progressively worse. We've had packets mailed to our house, we've had DVDs mailed to our house...
Unfortunately the Union is spread much thinner, so they've not been as big a presence in the store. We have a meeting tonight at the Spectrum to both vote on the contract and to vote on whether to temporarily raise Union Dues for everyone in UFCW to help us out (read: if we strike) like we all did when Alberston's California workers were on strike for four months several years ago. IN FACT, the company has brought in union workers from California to tell us all how if they had that choice to make again, they'd take the contract. So we're all traipsing downtown tonight, but really, with thousands and thousands of people invited, how are we really going to get all our questions answered? It's going to be more like a free-for-all...
I've read the LBAFO. On the surface, while it ain't great, it ain't horrible, either. The company is calling it a flat contract--no loss, no gain. They're taking money from one place to put it another place (they want to offer us cheaper lump sums instead of raises to offset health care and pension costs). I realize how great I've had it all these years not paying ANYTHING for my health care coverage, so I would absolutely be willing to pay the $20.00 per month they're asking (don't tell anyone I admitted that). The problems with the offer, as I see it, are as follows:
1) There are several instances where it simply says "Delete Article XYZ in it's entirety" without any mention of what the article is. Then when you go look it up in the current Collective Bargaining agreement you realize that it's something really important like Death Benefits or rules governing when one can retire, or something saying that they're going to eliminate all "past practices"--stuff that we've fought really hard for in the past.
2) The language is deliberately vague. There have been several instances in these meetings that we've had with the company in which I or my fellow associates have pointed this out and asked targeted questions that the company people have actually had to go get answers for. I don't trust this at all.
3) The new contract basically screws new associates. Is this a huge problem for me? Sorry, no, as long as these new associates have a clear understanding of what they are getting into when they are hired. They make nothing extra Sundays or Holidays, they will pay more for their health care... However, this is a problem for the Union. I see this as slightly hypocritical, as the union charges new associates for their dues the second they start working for us, even though they aren't members for 60 days, but whatever.
4) The final part of the LBAFO states that should the company be required by law to pay more into our pension than they're bargained for, then the money WILL be taken from our agreed-upon lump sum payments AND from even further reduced payments per associate to the Union for our Health Care. Which means that we could end up with no raise or lump sum payments at all and even more drastically-reduced health care coverage then is already in the cards.
I'm not a moron. I know how some people perceive Unions. I also know that these same people often forget that it was grassroots Union organization that laid the groundwork for their own decent wages, working conditions, and health benefits. The problem here is that most of us "little people" feel betrayed by both our company AND our Union. We had NO IDEA that this was coming. We've been humming along, doing the best jobs that we can, and BAM! I feel like the company is blackmailing us with the fact that the economy is in the toilet and economic times are horrible, and I feel like the Union is overlooking what's best for its members because Acme workers are it's biggest membership, so they have a lot at stake here.
So, the company has said that they are not locking us out. The doors will be open on July 10th, and our jobs/work will be available to us. However, once that date passes, they will, piece by piece, be implementing the LBAFO. The union has said that we are not voting to strike tonight. However, if we vote NOT to ratify the contract tonight, what, then, would be the next step? Or, if we DON'T strike, how will the Union view those associates who DO report to work on July 10th? We aren't crossing any sort of picket line, but... The ONLY way we can collect unemployment is if we are locked out, and the company knows that. Just one more way they have us over a barrel.
I've had several people tell me to take these events and use it as the impetus to move on and get out. And you know, that'd be great--if I had ANY sort of savings to fall back on, or if my household was NOT currently a two-Acme-income household. That'd be great if I came from a really rich family and could count on financial help from my relatives during what might play out. I could make all the lemonade I wanted. But you know what? I don't. So yeah, I'm on monster.com daily, trying to "impetus" my ass off, but that's not really helping right this very second. This is a job I've held for over 21 years. It might not be the best job in the world, and it certainly might not be the most mentally challenging, but it's a job, and in these tough times I am grateful to have it. The thought of being out of work and trying to take care of my family scares the CRAP out of me.
Oh, and it's interesting to watch how these very facts are dividing my fellow associates. People who live with their parents, or who have parents who are finacially able to make sure that they won't end up in the street, or people with spouses with really terrific and stable non-Acme jobs are all gung-ho to vote "NO"! The rest of us aren't so sure...
So, that, in a nutshell, is what's been going on. You can read about it in the Inquirer online if you search "Acme", and you can go to www.acmelabornews.com for the company's views and www.1776contractfacts.org for the unions. I'll update you once tonight's meeting's held. Should be awful.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Acme Screws Over Employees
I received an email from a friend of mine whose employers have suddenly decided to take advantage of the poor economy and dismal job market and force a non-negotiable contract down their Labor Union's throat. This is becoming pretty common these days; it is getting to the point that Unions aren't even doing a good job of protecting employees. I'm just going to reprint her email in its entirety and let it speak for itself...