We recently had opportunities to negotiate wage increases in the middle of our contracts with some of UFCW Local 99’s largest employers.

This is not simply an unusual development. It is an unprecedented development in the history of our union.

These increases are much better than one-time bonuses. They are real, lasting boosts in wages that affect many (though not all) employees who work in the meat packing, food processing and grocery fields throughout our jurisdiction.

What’s more, management can’t decide on its own to stop paying these increases, which is what some grocery employers did when they revoked the extra “hero pay” they provided in the early months of the COVID pandemic. The new wage scales are legally locked into the contracts we negotiated with the companies.

How were we able to do this?

Several factors contributed to the employers being forced to recognize the critical contributions our members have made to keep their businesses running smoothly and profitably. While many companies have paid lip service to the frontline workers who serve them well, often at great risk to themselves and their families, few employers have, until now, backed their words with permanent, non-revokable pay increases.

One factor is the series of minimum-wage increases being enacted in Arizona thanks to Proposition 206, the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act, which was approved by the state’s voters back in 2016. (UFCW Local 99 played a key role in the coalition of groups that won passage of this proposition.) Now that wages are moving higher at the bottom of the pay scale, employers are feeling pressure to raise wages higher up the scale as well.

Then there’s the current tight labor market across the country. Many businesses are desperate to find people who will work for them as the economy bounces back from the recession caused by the pandemic. Meanwhile, workers are becoming more choosey about their jobs, often refusing to return to positions that provide low pay and inferior benefits. Economists call this phenomenon the Great Resignation.

Finally, no less significant than the other factors is our members’ commitment to solidarity. Without it, they would lose almost everything that comes with a good union job.

 Beyond providing industry-leading wages, your union contract spells out the terms of your employment in specific ways that protect you from arbitrary and unfair treatment. It also outlines your health care, pension, vacations, overtime pay, holiday pay, job duties, life insurance, sick leave, seniority rights and other aspects of your job.

Without a contract, you would be an “at will” employee at the mercy of your boss, who could punish or even fire you for any reason or no reason at all. And should conditions force your company to raise your wages in one year, there would be little to stop it from lowering them the next.

 UFCW Local 99 is committed to improving your working life through innovative thinking, progressive ideas and a never-failing devotion to the cause of worker solidarity.

 In good times and bad, it’s always best to say, “Union Yes!”

 May the coming holidays bring health, peace, joy and prosperity to you and your loved ones.