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President’s Report

The bonds of empathy

I always enjoy watching my children have fun on the soccer field. They are super stars (in my eyes) on their team! But more importantly, their teams make them better.

From my seat in the uncomfortable camping chairs, I not only get to see their smiles, I get a glimpse into the future.

Through sports and play, our children learn how to be friends, sisters, brothers, teammates, arbitrators, caregivers and consolers. With proper guidance, they learn to work together and share the ball. They learn to enjoy making the assist as well as scoring the goal. They learn that to win, they must work together.

As they grow older, the basic nature of their social interactions will remain the same, even as the location may change from athletic field to campus to job site to home.

If all goes well, my children and yours will never lose their appreciation for the bonds of mutual support and compassion for other human beings. We have to hope these bonds of empathy won’t get buried under the loads of cynicism, distrust, anger and resentment people so often are burdened with on their journeys to adulthood.

We all are susceptible, to some degree, to this sad syndrome, which causes us to lose sight of our connection to others who are different or need help.

Our current social and political environment — mass shootings, heated campaign rhetoric, toxic political commentators and more — is making the problem worse, pitting “us” against “them,” whoever “they” might be.

America is being divided into tribes that despise each other, and this division may be blinding us to solutions that have the potential of uniting us in solving the problems we all share.

We can bring down the temperature and tension that diminish the quality of our lives by focusing on what unites us as Americans.

The perfect time

The holiday season is a perfect time to refocus our lives. It’s the time of year when we are called to step out of our personal bubbles, come together around the dinner table and realize that the beliefs which divide us are insignificant compared to the beliefs we share.

Friendship, compassion and commonality of purpose — these are traits we all admire and aspire to achieve with our family members, neighbors and coworkers, even if we don’t see eye to eye on every issue.

The sadness we felt watching the news in recent weeks — witnessing the pain in Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks inflicted by deranged killers and the devastations caused by deadly wildfires in California — must not be allowed to take over our lives and cause us to withdraw from hope.

The grief stemming from such events can be enormous, but the overflowing of kindness and selflessness that springs from their aftermath can be even greater.

The candlelight vigils, the donations of food and supplies to survivors and first responders — all of these and more

remind us we are all one community of Americans and human beings.

Making a difference

Given the choice between despair and action, I will choose action every time. Doing something to help others is great medicine for the soul.

For example, folks in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah can help fire victims in California by making donations to our UFCW family through ufcw8.org/donate. Pressing the “send” button can feel mighty good!

At the least, we should embrace our empathy by thinking of those who have lost their homes and reflecting on the importance of our own homes for ourselves and our loved ones. Even if we’ve never had to evacuate our home or watch it vanish before our eyes, we can resolve to never take it for granted.

From my perspective on the soccer field camping chairs, I’m filled with hope that my kids and their friends will hold tight to the bonds of empathy they have forged.

These are the bonds that give meaning and purpose to our lives. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays to all.

#RedforEd: A labor victory in Arizona

The power of solidarity was on display for everyone to see as the teachers of Arizona stood together to demand justice. Our union, UFCW Local 99, stood with them.

Across the state, teachers wore red and took to the streets to seek better pay and adequate funding for their mission to educate our youth.

The great Arizona teacher’s strike ended just before dawn on May 3, when the state legislature passed, and Gov. Doug Ducey quickly approved, a much-needed 20% funding increase. They also agreed to invest an additional $138 million into Arizona’s public schools.

“We will return to our schools, classrooms and students knowing that we have achieved something truly historic,” Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said in a joint statement.

“We should take pride in what we have accomplished, and in the movement that we have created together.”

Arizona’s week-long #RedforEd walkout began almost spontaneously in the aftermath of similar actions in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, where educators rebelled against decades of budget cuts and “pension reforms” that demonstrated the low priority lawmakers had given to the professionals who teach at public schools.

The same trends were evident in Arizona, where misguided legislators have over the years dramatically cut taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations, in turn reducing revenues and putting the squeeze on students and teachers.

Many teachers in the state are forced to take second and third jobs to support themselves and their families. Still more of them routinely buy school supplies out of their own nearly-empty pockets.

This is not the way we should treat our teachers, who are entrusted to nurture, educate and inspire our children in their journey to adulthood and taking on the responsibilities of work, family and civic participation.

UFCW Local 99 has always been a strong advocate for education for our members, just as we have supported the struggles of educators to get the respect they deserve. This is why it is important for our union to support efforts to pass an initiative to create a permanent funding stream to ensure we live up to the commitments to fund education properly.

It’s also why I was grateful for the opportunity to address a rally for 50,000 people in support of the teachers’ cause.

As I looked out on a sea of people dressed in bright red and holding aloft signs of solidarity, I couldn’t be more proud of the Labor Movement and its potential for positive social change.

I spoke both as a labor leader and as a father of three. I also repeated what I said in a letter I wrote to Arizona’s educators a few days earlier:

“Make your demands. Again. And again. Know that you have friends all over this state. They, as am I, are proud to call you our Brothers and Sisters.”

See you in November!

#MineToo

Around the time I was thinking about what to write in this issue of 99Report, my 15-year-old son came to me with some questions about the high-profile cases of sexual harassment that have been in the news.

I explained that sometimes people in power — especially men, but not always men — forget their obligations to treat others with respect and decency. Sooner or later, the truth comes out and it leads to their downfall.

I am also the father of two girls. My oldest is 18 and has already entered the workforce. My youngest is 8 and she has a way to go. It’s difficult to imagine anyone harassing them and getting away with it.

As their father, I hope that I have shown them how to be strong and provided them with good examples of what is and isn’t acceptable.

But what if the situation they find themselves in is more intimidating than they are prepared for?

Throughout my career I have seen the effects of harassment and witnessed the power and strength of our members as they make the difficult first step to bring it up. It’s difficult but it’s also empowering.

#MeToo campaign

The #MeToo movement that has gained attention over the last couple of months is a wake-up call about what must not be tolerated.

At its root is sexual harassment and assaults against women — women who have been put in threatening and even dangerous situations by powerful men.

But this isn’t just about women. The #MeToo campaign includes men, people of color, LGBTQ people and those who are challenged physically and mentally. People from all walks of life have been abused verbally, physically and psychologically, and it needs to stop.

We as decent working people need to see this as a call to action against those who abuse their power to hurt those who are unable to fight back.

For too long we have allowed some of these things to occur right in front of us — in our stores, our schools, our community and even our homes — and chosen to do nothing.

We must not simply observe this movement as bystanders to history and fail to recognize that we have a role in putting an end to this kind of behavior. We have a responsibility to stand up for and stand by people who need our support wherever they may be.

The #MeToo campaign also can inspire us to act on other important issues, including pay disparity and discrimination on the job.

‘An injury to one…’

Unions exist to end unequal and unfair practices in the workplace. Our union-negotiated contracts set firm rules to ensure respect, dignity, wage equality and more, and our union representatives are dedicated to enforcing these rules.

One of the historic slogans of the Labor Movement is “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

We say it and we mean it.

An assault on the weakest among us is an assault on all good people.

Some of us have endured abuse personally. Others, like me, are close to people who may have to deal with such issues at some point in their lives. It’s either #MeToo or #MineToo.

We can never forget about the people who are affected by harassment. They include domestic workers, farm workers and teachers. They work in factories, warehouses, restaurants and in our schools.

We can never forget faces of the brave victims who stand up for justice and against assault. They are Olympic athletes, mothers and soldiers in the military. They are the bravest people we know.

We must stand unified and arm in arm with them not only to support them but to amplify their voices as they speak out against some of the most powerful people in our society. We must remind the offenders that good people will not stand for their bullying or their threats. Their behavior is an affront to decency and decent people everywhere.

It occurred to me when my son was questioning me about #MeToo that he was asking because he had heard something, probably from school friends or teammates, that caused him some skepticism about this.

I realized in that moment that the examples I set and the advice I give and the teaching I provide to my child can be undermined by opinions provided by his peers.

I am proud of the young man he is, and I want to continue to nurture him with the information, confidence and tools that I provide his sisters so that he will become one of those phenomenal men who will fight hard to make sure he becomes a leader who will take us to the time when nobody ever has to say #MeToo again.

Or, for that matter, #MineToo.

Racism in America: ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught’

 

In the classic 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, the character Lieutenant Cable sings a song called “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

It starts like this:

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught,

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

This simple song about racism was controversial in its time. The show’s composers and producers were accused of Communist sympathies. Legislators in Georgia introduced a bill to outlaw entertainment containing “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.”

Some of us may be surprised to learn that racism was so openly defended and advocated by elected officials as late as the mid-20th century. But recent events remind us that racism and ethnic hatred continue to infect our society in disturbing ways.

I’m referring specifically to the march by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., who rallied to protest a decision to remove a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Americans were shocked to see images of about 250 young people in khaki pants and white polo shirts marching with tiki torches through a university campus founded by Thomas Jefferson as they shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans. Comments made afterward by the President of the United States unfortunately did not calm the waters.

More recently, the President stirred the pot again with his decision to end the program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.

DACA is broadly seen as a reasonable policy to protect young people who were brought to America as children but have obeyed our country’s laws as they build careers and families in pursuit of the American Dream.

For the most part, the President’s supporters in this action insist they oppose DACA on purely legal grounds. They emphatically resent being called racists. And yet I can’t help wondering how much of this opposition was motivated by a desire to rid our country of “foreigners” who don’t look like “us.”

We’ll see how this shakes out as Congress considers restoring DACA protections for “Dreamers” in the next few months. The President certainly deserves credit for announcing his support for such legislation.

In the meantime, I take comfort in learning that a comment by former President Barack Obama has become the most “liked” tweet of all time.

Invoking the late South African President Nelson Mandela, Obama wrote:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…”

Yes, you’ve got to be carefully taught.

I try my best to be careful about what I teach my three children. I teach them to respect, appreciate and cherish all human beings, in all their many varieties.

That’s the American way.

What’s your union story?

Everyone loves a good story.

Sometimes, even the most complicated message can be delivered simply and effectively by sharing a personal experience.

This is especially true when we talk to our co-workers about the importance of belonging to our union.

UFCW Local 99 does so much for all of us that a newcomer could be overwhelmed by the scope of services and protections we provide. To help, we have upgraded our website, ufcw99.com, and published an attractive new guidebook called Know Your Union.

Nevertheless, there are times when a personal story says it best.

Here’s an example from my own experiences:

I was 17 years old when I first walked into my local union office to sign up as a member. As the son of a trade unionist, I never had any doubt in my mind that this was the right thing to do. But I was not prepared for everything I learned that day.

As I learned about my new health and pension benefits, I felt a sense of pride, empowerment and solidarity — I knew what I has was valuable.

Here I was, a 17-year-old kid, earning health care that was as good as my parents’!

In all the years since then, I’ve never forgotten how I felt as I signed on the dotted line to become a union member. And I still feel immense pride in being part of a great organization built on fraternity, solidarity and shared strength.

That’s just one of many stories I have to tell, but it has special relevance to a young person who is beginning his or her own journey to independence and a career.

You probably have your own stories to share about how our union has helped you or someone you know.

Did your union health benefits come through in a way that saved your family from financial devastation?

Did a union scholarship help you or your child pay the bills while seeking a college education?

Did your union representative stand by you through the grievance process when your job was on the line?

Did you meet a close friend or future spouse while volunteering for a union activity?

Did Local 99 provide direct assistance to your family in a time of crisis?

I’ve heard these kinds of stories regularly in the course of my years in this union.

Now we are providing an opportunity for you to tell your own union story as a short video in a dedicated section of our new website.

Record your short video (three minutes or less) and submit it at ufcw99.com/myunionstory.

If we select your entry for the website, you’ll receive a $100 gift card.

After all, everyone loves a good story!

What’s your union story?

Remember Kenny Jacobs, and keep our union strong

Last month Kenny Jacobs left for the big union hall in the sky. He died on March 18, 2017.  

  Some members still remember Kenny, the Fry’s meat cutter who had two things on him always: a smile and his union button. He even wore his button on the day of his funeral.

Kenny joined the union in 1968 and stayed a member more than 40 years. 

I met Kenny nearly 25 years into his Local 99 membership. He was a big man who never missed an opportunity to strike up a conversation and get to know you, no matter who you were. Everyone who talked with him left feeling good about it — and felt good about him. 

If you worked with Kenny, you knew where he stood and you knew he had your back.

Kenny served as a union steward and on the local’s Executive Board. He was on bargaining committees for the meat contract — there are still provisions in the contract that Kenny helped write. 

He was a mentor for many leaders who work for Local 99 today. And at his store he helped many apprentices who later moved into management at Fry’s. That’s the kind of man he was. 

If you worked in his store, Kenny would sign you up as a member of the union and train you to be a steward. He would bring you to union meetings and discuss the contract with you. 

Kenny would make sure that you met your rep, and if you had a problem he would personally dial the number to the local so you could talk to a rep. 

He cared. He felt he had a responsibility to make his union stronger. He belonged and knew that for the union to work, its members had to be engaged. 

He was a great example for all of us. 

Kenny was proud of his work and proud to be a worker. Even after he retired, if you asked him what he did for a living he would say, “I’m a union meat cutter.”

When people like Kenny pass away, you miss them. You miss talking to them, seeing them and learning from them. 

In death, Kenny wouldn’t want to be missed. He would want to be remembered for the way he helped people. He would want to be the man who encouraged men and women to pick up where he left off building a union and making it stronger. 

If anyone wants to know what they can do to help their union, look no further than the example set by Kenny Jacobs. 

And don’t miss him. Remember him. 

Keep our union strong.