At their peak, unions represented more than a third of American workers. Now, after several decades of continuing decline, less than 10% of workers in the private sector are part of organized labor. And with so much of American manufacturing having moved offshore to escape the less-than-friendly business climate the politicians created, that’s not really news.
What some people don’t know is how union leadership has continued to cozy up to progressive politicians pushing policies that are antithetical to the interests of the rank and file.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden – who campaigned as a moderate — signed an executive order killing the Keystone XL pipeline and, with it, more than 10,000 good-paying union jobs. Among Democrats, that’s par for the course. The vocal progressives dominating the Democratic Party these days are in command of the agenda.
In another case, the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union has been pushing for at least ten months for “hazard pay” that doesn’t mesh with the interests of its members. UFCW International President Marc Perrone is demanding some of the nation’s largest grocery chains commit to the pay bump because of COIVD.
Initially, he wanted $2 an hour. Now he wants $4, even $5 an hour in several West Coast cities. For this, he’s finding support from city and county politicians whose campaigns are union-funded.
Shortages caused by the lockdowns have made it challenging for grocers and their frontline employees. The UFCW’s on them, after they’ve already invested billions to improve safety measures ignores the facts and smacks of ingratitude. Some grocery chains, like Kroger, are already offering $100 bonuses to employees who get a COVID vaccine.
But what of what the union wants? A letter to the editor recently appearing in the Los Angeles Times said it well: “I fully agree that the grocery store workers are heroes. However, how does requiring them to be paid more solve the problem here? Are we saying to workers that it’s OK if you get sick, so long as you are paid more?”
Whatever the companies agree to give, it will probably never be enough for the union leadership The UFCW and Marc Perrone care more about proving they’ve got muscles to flex than the effect these demands will have on working families. In Long Beach, California – which has already mandated hazard pay for grocery workers – Kroger was forced to announce it would close two underperforming stores because the move increased labor costs by more than 20%.
How does that play out? A California Grocers Association study recently found the state’s hazard pay ordinances could raise grocery costs for the average family of four by $400 a year while hundreds of workers, most of them UFCW members, will lose their jobs. It’s a pyrrhic victory that may be repeated regardless of the impact on workers because it generates good headlines for the unions.
Ironically, Perrone and other UFCW leaders won’t suspend the collection of weekly dues payments during the pandemic, a move that would help an awful lot of households stretch their budgets and increase purchasing power.
Perrone seems to think more of non-union chains like Trader Joe’s, which he has praised for boosting so-called “hero pay” to $4 during the pandemic but that may be because of the pressure it puts on chains like Kroger and Albertson’s.
What he doesn’t mention is that Trader Joe’s CEO admitted the pay bump takes midyear raises off the table and that it might not last if cities “continue to increase the hourly rate above $4 or have the premium remain after the pandemic.”
There are grocery chains like Kroger, Albertson’s, and Ahold that recently made multi-billion-dollar investments to secure and stabilize the pensions of more than 50,000 unionized grocery workers. It was a pro-worker move that not only put people over profits but was made necessary because the UFCW plan was significantly underfunded. Most grocers provide their employees fair wages, industry-leading benefits in pensions and healthcare, and COVID-19 vaccines. What does the union do? It’s time for the workers to start asking.
Peter Roff is a former UPI and U.S. News & World Report columnist who is now affiliated with several Washington-D.C.-based public policy organizations. He appears regularly as a commentator on the One America News network. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.