Last night I drove to a union meeting about 40 miles from here. I had known about the conference for about a week, but only when I was about to head there was I confused about when the meeting was. The posted flyer was a bit ambiguous about the timing; it said “5 – 6:30,” which could have meant there were two meetings, one at five and the other 90 minutes later, or the one meeting lasting 90 minutes. I texted one of my co-workers, and she informed me it was the second option. It was already 4:30, and I hadn’t even gotten home from work yet. And it was snowing, which presented a problem. Was it worth going, or would I make a harrowing drive to the meeting through snow and low visibility? As it turns out, yes…I was. However, my wife wasn’t so very quickly convinced. She thought it was better not to go. This makes sense if it’s not your contract being discussed and voted on. As it was mine, I chose to be informed and have my vote cast.

I’d heard over the past couple of weeks (from various sources) that the contract would contain raises that amounted to about $3/hr over the coming three years. Our contracts tend to be for three years at a time, and with the minimum wage rising exponentially here in NYS, it’s been an ongoing cause for concern for those making more than the minimum. Since 2020, when the last contract was enacted, the minimum has risen from $11.80/hr to $14.20. Next year it will hit $15/hr, and for someone that’s been working for more than 30 years, making $17-$20/hr and being merely $5 over the minimum is a monumental travesty. Don’t even get me started about the Federal minimum, which hasn’t been changed in 14 years and is still only $7.25/hr. Too many states use that minimum as their guideline, and with prices having risen exponentially over the past 20 years, that’s just impossible. The rich get richer, and the poor…. grow in ever more significant numbers.

I made it to the meeting about 20 minutes late. The meeting was in the American Legion hall (where it’s been held many times before, but every time I go there, I forget the place since I only go there every three years). I could tell walking into the room that it was even more sparsely attended than the last time. My store has over 100 employees, and the other store that was represented has even more people. Five people were from my store and only 14 from the other. It boggles my mind that so few people covered by a contract don’t want to participate in its management. They blindly go along with what happens and then complain en masse about what it contains if even they ever read its content. I suppose, in a way, it makes me understand why unions are not welcome in many places. Dues are deducted from our paychecks, and people complain that they don’t get representation for those dues. You do; you’re unaware of it because you don’t participate in the union when offered. Or you don’t care because the job is a means to an end; it’s not a career.

As it turned out, looking at the sheaf of papers that I got after signing in while the union representative was going over information about the proposed raises (someone was having trouble understanding the breakdown), the raises in question were even worse than what I’d heard. The 401k that the union has in place of a pension (there was at one time a company-supported assistance through the league, but after the last bankruptcy, the company decided they couldn’t afford to pay for it anymore and stopped) is still being funded through the company. The payments the company makes on our behalf are being increased due to inflation and other costs. Though the union had negotiated with the company regarding stemming health care costs a bit, we weren’t being soaked for even more in co-pays when we paid none ten-plus years ago.

Due to it already being nearly April, if the contract were ratified, the first raise of $1/hr would be enacted today, March 15.  The next one would come due in December when the NYS minimum was raised to the aforementioned $15/hr.  In the following years of 2024 and 2025, it would be only 50 CENTS an hour.  (back to nickel and diming us).  So for someone making $17/hr, by the time the next contract was due in 2026, they’d be making a little over $20/hr, and the minimum wage might be at that level by then as well.  Which again, ridiculous.  I was looking at a website that talks about what minimum wage (Federal) would be if it kept up with inflation and/or productivity, like it used to.  As of 2022, the minimum wage would be approximately $21.50/hr and a typical family with both wage earners working full time would be making $89,000 a year.  Instead of $30,000/yr with 2 wage earners making the current $7.25/hr minimum.

I don’t get it.  I’ve been trying to understand this for years.

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