Statement from a Seattle Grocery Worker
Union grocery workers in Washington are in the midst of a high-stakes contract battle, as Amazon workers and Starbucks workers around the country are engaged in a historic fight to organize their workplaces.
As a grocery worker in Seattle and rank-and-file member of UFCW 3000, I am voting NO on this dramatically insufficient proposed contract (tentative agreement).
Grocery workers have been called “heroes” and “essential workers,” but the vast majority of us remain overworked and underpaid. In the meantime, corporations like Kroger, Safeway, and Albertsons have raked in record profits and CEO’s like Rodney McMullen grant themselves $22 million salaries, over 900 times the wage of the average Kroger employee.
Unfortunately, the tentative agreement falls far short of what me and my coworkers need. What my union leadership has been advertising as the best wage increases in its history in actuality amounts to most workers barely keeping up with inflation. The tentative agreement also says that those living in areas currently with hazard pay, like Seattle, will need to give up our $4 hazard pay or wait until August 28th before we receive our ‘raises’. If grocery chains and their politicians succeed in repealing hazard pay like they tried to do in Seattle earlier this year, that would make this a major pay cut!
When members walked in to read the tentative agreement this morning, UFCW leaders told members that raises would be $2/hour this year, and then keep going up. They didn’t tell them that those raises only apply after you have been working 3.5 years and achieve journeyperson status. Starting wages only go up 15¢ this year, and raises for people with 3-years experience only increase by a dollar. We deserve to know the truth, and most importantly, we should fight for and win a raise we can live on. Even the largest $2/hour raise for journeypeople is not enough, as we face record inflation this year. Who can pay rent and buy gas on this?
Aside from the wage increases, the tentative agreement falls short in almost every other aspect. Healthcare benefits are to remain exactly the same but no better, which is being touted as a victory by the union leadership at a time when a global pandemic has exposed the serious hazards that grocery and other essential workers face in the workplace. There are zero concrete proposals to fix scheduling issues, understaffing, or address safety concerns — all of which have come up over and over in conversation with my coworkers as some of our top concerns. Instead, the tentative agreement proposes the formation of toothless manager-worker bodies to discuss these issues, but with no commitment to implement any changes.
The most underhanded aspect of this tentative agreement is undoubtedly the introduction of a tiered system to the contract, in which existing senior journeypersons cap out at $26.40 in 2024, but anyone who earns journey status in the future will cap out at $24.40. This is a common tactic by the bosses meant to undermine the strength of organized labor by dividing older workers from newer workers. This same tiered system has led to a savaging of working conditions for UPS workers and notoriously throughout the auto industry, as the employers are motivated to push higher paid older workers out the door, while younger workers can be led to blame the older generation for selling them out. This is a classic divide-and-conquer strategy which can only benefit profit-hungry employers.
It is for all of these reasons that I am advocating a NO vote on this TA.
How did we get here? Most of the blame, of course, lies with the unparalleled greed of Kroger, Safway, and Albertsons in their quest to squeeze every last cent from their workforce. I am proud to be in a union. Without our union, we couldn’t organize for a contract in the first place. But to understand the full picture, we must also address the totally misguided approach of the UFCW 3000 leadership, which relies on negotiation with the bosses while keeping their real source of strength — the rank-and-file workers — uninformed and at arm’s length.
Rather than prepare the membership to take action and force the bosses’ hand, the UFCW 3000 leadership accepted an abysmal contract a full three weeks before the outgoing contract was set to expire, which is when the workers would have had the green light to use the most effective tool at our disposal — the strike.
The tentative agreement was kept hidden from the members, preventing us from having the opportunity to look it over ahead of time and discuss it with coworkers and family members. Instead, members were expected to show up to one of the limited voting locations, where they were given a misleading summary by a union representative that felt more like a sales pitch, and asked to vote on the spot. This is a shockingly undemocratic process. It’s unusual in even the current minimal standards of our labor movement, let alone what is needed: real rank-and-file democracy with full collective discussion on all key decisions. I have uploaded the outline of the tentative agreement (the full contract is still not being shared with us) — you can read it here.
Contract negotiations are a vital time when union members should exercise our collective power as workers to improve our conditions and defend against workplace exploitation.
It’s not too late to win a strong contract for UFCW 3000 grocery workers, but it will take a serious rank-and-file mobilization. For this, we can look to JFK8 Amazon workers who recently organized a militant shop-floor union drive and won against one of the world’s most powerful corporations as an example. We can also look to our own example of rank-and-file UFCW 3000 members at three Seattle stores, who over the weekend organized a call-in campaign to their union representatives, demanding a Seattle voting location be scheduled to make the TA vote accessible to as many members as possible. We won our demand earlier today. When we get organized and fight, we can win.
I urge my fellow UFCW rank and file to come to our meeting this Thursday evening, 7:30PM at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, so we can discuss how we can win the fair contract we deserve. Any of my fellow workers who agree, have questions, or who are searching for a way to get organized should join us!