About every three months my union has a conference call, what they call a ‘telephone town hall’ where the union President and whoever else he invites to participate talks to the members that wish to listen in. Usually this is held at the union offices near Buffalo, NY, but sometimes they do it in a satellite place like Syracuse, Albany, or somewhere there’s a significant union presence, where they can be out and seen, interact with the rank and file, and in many ways give us all the impression that our union dues are actually going towards something meaningful, rather than what some suspect, padding their respective pockets.
In these calls, the format is welcoming everyone to the call, talking about what’s been occurring in the union over the last several months, since not all union members are with one particular company, there are several businesses that are covered by the union, so someone in the health care industry isn’t necessarily interested in pension business with a grocery chain and so on. There’s some crossover, but not necessarily a lot. On these calls, generally at any given time there may be anywhere between 700 and 3000 people listening in, depending on what’s being discussed. Certainly more than one would get at a sit-down union meeting, as is evidenced by all the ones I’ve attended when it comes to discussing and voting on impending contracts. Just as an example, the last time my particular contract was voted on, out of over 100 eligible employees that might have attended the meeting, four showed up. FOUR. Boggles my mind. With that in mind, the organizers had several different locals at the meeting so as to allow for more people than one local would provide. Still, the attendance rate was pretty dismal.
Getting back to the issue at hand, the meeting was mostly about what’s been happening ove the past three months, and to bring people’s attention to a program the union is sponsoring in regard to health care costs, that it requires some effort to participate in. In order to lower the costs here in the US (since we don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason when it comes to health care charges) they started this program where one can provide them with some health care information (confidentially) and if there are certain warning signs (heart, pre-diabetes, etc) that person can get assistance in attending to it, from a health professional, as well as qualify for lower co-pays and higher payments from the health insurance, which can be a great thing if one ever has anything that would be more costly in that regard.
Generally, the business portion is dealt with first, then the floor is opened up for questions. Too, there are small polls conducted, asking questions like “who are you going to vote for in the coming election“, (generally unions prefer Democratic candidates as Republicans aren’t very supportive of anything to do with organized labor as a rule) to fill in the time of the meeting. After the business is attended to, the floor is opened up for questions. Generally, the questions aren’t supposed to be about something the person is experiencing in their local store or employment location, but on occasion that does happen. Too, questions attend to information or discrepancies in the health care plans, but every now and again someone asks something that effects all of us.
In that vein, this time, someone asked that sort of question.
Here in New York, the state government has been raising the minimum labor wage incrementally over the last ten years. The Federal minimum wage is at $7.25/hour and has been there since 2009. There have been several bills introduced in the Senate and House intending to raise it, but with Republican control in the Senate, and Trump in the White House, there’s little chance of a raise in the minimum wage on the Federal level anytime soon. That’s not to say the Democrats are any less guilty of this, when Obama was President, Congress had little desire to raise it either, so there’s blame on both sides.
The question posed was; with the raising of the minimum wage that has been happening, every time that wage goes up, those of us that are earning more than minimum end up losing out, since eventually someone being hired could very well make about the same amount of money that another person (like myself) took 20-30 years to earn. Minimum wage rising doesn’t translate to a bump in pay for people in grade. We end up losing ground to this. And the company I work for knows this, but does nothing about it. They just throw up their hands, and say there’s nothing they can do and continue on their merry way. (Of course it doesn’t stop them from awarding themselves bonuses whenever they feel like it, but that’s a different issue.)
The person asked if there was anything the union was intending to do about it, and that’s when the union President had a nutty. I’ve actually never heard someone in his position get so passionate about an issue, and as he was going on about it, he was practically yelling into the phone. I think it was a speakerphone on his end, since he was at a sit-down rank and file meeting that had been set up for this occasion. That might have contributed to his actions, but he harranged about this for a good two to three minutes, basically calling out the grocery company I work for to do something about this issue (I do wonder if they had someone listening in on the call, or ever do) and just coming short of promising to bring this up at the contract negotiations next year. Whether or not anything happens with this is very up in the air, but it was pretty interesting to listen to at any rate.
After this tirade, the meeting came rather quickly to a close. All in all it wasn’t wasted time, and it gave me something to ponder as well as talk to with my fellow employees at work the next day, ones that hadn’t been in on the call. I actually expect I’m one of the few at my store that even bothers to take these calls, but being older, I tend to give more weight as to what happens with the union than younger employees, who might not be so interested in building a career in the retail industry.