When the words COVID were first spoken and reached every corner of our nation in March, UFCW 876 President Dan Pedersen's first reaction was what will we do to protect and navigate the membership? They will be, after all, in the midst of every possible, public scenario - leaving them vulnerable. Pedersen knew 876 would be doing the heavy lifting, in a way that the labor movement has not seen in many years.
"At the very exact moment I realized this crisis was not projected to be like any other public emergency we had ever seen - my head just reeled," Pedersen said. "I began to play out scenarios in my mind and seek and apply as many tools at my disposal to facilitate and support the best outcomes possible for the members of 876."
On March 10, after three of the four Steward Conferences concluded, the very first advocacy communication was released and immediately it was called out as being too harsh and too scary due to an image of a woman wearing a mask. A mask. Think about that.
The race was on! Unions, workers, community leaders and legislators were all searching their arsenals of programs and policy to deal with what would turn out to be the most deadly pandemic in U.S. history.
"876's journey was nothing we could calculate or even plan for," Pedersen said. "In fact, it was messy, oftentimes last-minute due to the very nature of any crisis, and passionate."
876 fought for basic human rights and worked with legislative and community leaders, health care professionals, industry experts and union colleagues from all over the nation in developing a plan of action to preserve both the physical and economic health of members. 876 pushed for basic protections: mask and glove wear, social distancing, reduced store traffic, sick leave, the list goes on! 876 fought with companies to recognize the reality of danger in working on the frontline and for hero pay with every employer daily. And with each victory we were gaining ground - together. Undoubtedly, it was the your support and constant engagement that provided the vehicle for 876 to effectively deliver the messages that got results.
"We took these risks together as a team. I believe both parties fully understood if we did not move together, we would be ignored or even worse," Pedersen said. "Every plan of action was facilitated by both stewards and members. That was powerful!"
On many fronts, 876 led the charge, making sure the risks that were inherit to your public-facing jobs were recognized, protected and compensated. And in mid-March, temporary agreements of exceptions from attendance policies of nearly all employers were secured; allowing those who were experiencing flu-like symptoms to receive extended care without losing pay, status or their job.
In an effort to continue providing union servicing and services with minimal interruptions, Pedersen quickly modified events, programs, meetings and daily interactions making them safer by adhering to all guidelines and recommendations by the state and the Center of Disease Control.
On March 19, 876 called on employers to provide masks, gloves and hazard pay. The next day, members had earned the right to wear personal protection equipment or PPE And, directly on the heals of that win, UFCW nationally, began to publicly push for hazard pay.
On March 21, member and public pressure forced an one-time appreciation bonus offer to The Kroger Company members. Pedersen refused, countering with $2 Hero Pay, pairing that with a demand the company adhere to the guidelines of the CDC. Soon after, Rite Aid announced its $2 "Pandemic Pay," plus an employee discount.
Legislative leaders began reach out to 876, providing aid to our fight by applying pressure to companies who were not implementing health and safety protocols unless pressured. A handful of legislators acted quickly and fiercely for personal protection equipment, compliance with CDC mandates and pushed to provide hazard pay for frontline workers.
These legislators are now in their own fight to secure their seats in our communities. It is these leaders we must now come forward to protect. Learn who they are at ufcw876.org/#political-advocacy.
"Divisiveness has no seat at any process that secures worker rights," Pedersen said. "Candidate selection, for me, must be grounded in each candidate's stance, record and performance. It is the welfare of this membership that will always take priority."
In mid-March, Adhesive Systems and Diversified Chemical quickly stepped in line with a $200 weekly bonus plus three additional paid sick days. Diversitak, Inc. stepped up with a $2.50 per hour increase, Oleson's Food Stores was next with their "Appreciation Pay" of $2.00 per hour in a one-time bonus. Calls for The Kroger Company to join this movement continued.
Riverside Market began their "Appreciation Pay" at $2 per hour plus paid two-week sick leave. Alexander Hornung increased their hourly rate by $1 plus bonuses. Calls for The Kroger Company to join continued. And on March 31, your support and perseverance paid off and members working at The Kroger Company were recognized with $2 hero pay, $3 overtime pay and full and part-time bonuses.
April began with multiple, public legislative announcements calling out for the recognition, health and the safety of this membership. People's Food Co-op in Ann Arbor were recognized with an additional $1 per hour. Progress was made with The Kroger Company resulting in $2 hero pay, the right to wear masks and gloves, cashier shields, social distancing and work area sanitizing protocols.
Hollywood Markets announced their weekly bonus program of $100 for full-time, $50 for part-time, $50 for full-time service clerks, $25 for part-time service clerks, gift cards and Easter Sunday off. Calls to Twin City Food, Inc., to do the right thing continued. Polly's Country Markets and Cattleman's Meat and Produce announced their continuation of hero pay.
President Pedersen called on Governor Gretchen Whitmer to remain steadfast with emergency declarations that were protecting your safety and health; and to classify grocery workers as first responders to open up further eligibility for state programs and policy.
The "Shop Smart" campaign kicked off, calling on our neighbors and communities to respect and reduce your daily exposure. This program quickly evolved nationally and was supported by Pedersen's state-wide radio campaign.
Mid-April brought many extensions to existing hazard pay agreements with: People's Food Co-op, Oleson's Food Stores, Pat's Food Market, Adhesive Systems, Diversified Chemical, Koegel Meats, Inc., and The Kroger Company.
During this time, Pedersen made significant progress with the Governor's office in securing important safety and health considerations including reduced store capacity, the qualification of grocery workers for free testing with no symptoms and mandatory mask wear for both vendors and customers. 876 began distributing thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer, masks and gaitors.
..April ended with employer extensions for: Rite Aid, Cattleman's Meat and Produce and Riverside Market. Calls out to The Kroger Company to do the right thing were again amplified by you, and on May 1, The Kroger Company reactivated both $2 hero pay and $3 overtime pay for a two-week window.
In May, as other employers were implementing larger extension windows, some extending until a declared end to the crisis! The Kroger Company declared the pandemic as the new normal. And became the focus of Pedersen's efforts once again. Multiple letters were sent to both the Michigan Division and to CEO Rodney McMullen on behalf of 876 and UFCW Region 4. People's Food Co-op, Adhesive Systems, Diversified Chemical, Riverside Market, Oleson's Food Stores and Alexander Hornung extended hero pay in appreciation and recognition of their employees once again.
It was during this time, The Kroger Company declared in a communication, it had taken such timely and aggressive action in compensating and protecting its employees, no further monetary compensation was warranted, stating their employees preferred safety and health measures over hazard pay. Pedersen countered, citing each disparity, calling out the morality and civility of the action, in light of its record sales.
"We have been forced to fight for everything we have gotten so far, and will continue to do so," Pedersen said in a statement, "You deserve more. Way more."
Your heightened activity gained the attention of Congressional representatives who lent both their support and voices. By participating in the "Still Essential" and "Tell Congress: Support Frontline Workers Today" campaigns you were sent strong messages to legislative leaders who were able to facilitate change.
Employers who took a cue from the rising tide of empathy and appreciation extended hero pay a third time; People's Food Co-op, Adhesive Systems, Diversified Chemical, Polly's Country Market and Hollywood Market.
Pedersen pushed on with the strength of every member behind him and secured "Thank You" pay, which would be calculated based on hours worked, and included overtime. This allowed all members, despite full or part-time classification, to be recognized fairly. This agreement also included emergency leave extension.
This fight is not over. 876 will continue these conversations both statewide and nationwide in finding supporting policy, recognition and respect for you and secure support in your communities.
It is with great respect and admiration that 876 boasts one of the most progressive and aware memberships in the nation. Your participation in this journey has defined who we are as a union; and has not only provided exactly the support a union requires to make change, but demonstrated to a nation what it means to be 876 a progressive union member.
"I cannot stress enough how appreciative I am by the outpouring of support received, whether by phone, e-mail or one-on-one conversations I had with so many of you," Pedersen said. "It has been a source of strength and pride, that this membership is so in tune with the union's daily processes, that it reveals itself in our narrative so openly. So thank you 876! It is not time to take our foot off the gas. Let's keep conversing, calling, e-mailing and discovering ways we can move this membership forward in building a better life - together."
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