Unions: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is and Support Workers

The following article was authored by Jeff Moseley.

Of the many unsung heroes who have been working tirelessly to keep Texans safe and fed over the past six months grocery store workers may not be the first group that comes to top of mind.

While we owe a great debt of gratitude to all the essential workers serving on the front lines, including those in healthcare like nurses and doctors and nursing home staff, grocery store employees have quietly and diligently continued to ensure that Americans across the country have reliable access to everyday necessities like fresh food and other household items, as well as the cleaning supplies key to fighting the coronavirus. When much of the country was shut down, and now as some cities scale back their reopening plans, grocery stores have remained resilient and committed to keeping the shelves stocked and the communities in which they operate served.

Grocery stores across the country have been taking steps to support and safeguard the health and safety of both their employees and customers, but one company in particular – Kroger – stands out not only for the steps they have taken, but also for the surprising response from their employees’ union.

Kroger has invested more than $800 million to reward their workforce and implement industry-leading safety measures designed to keep employees and customers safe. Kroger was one of the first employers to recognize employees with “Hero Pay” and bonuses to reward their diligent efforts early on in the pandemic. Kroger was also the first of any large corporation to successfully provide free Coronavirus tests for their employees – an admirable initiative that can be a model for other large employers across America seeking to be part of the solution. These efforts have directly benefited the more than 100 stores and nearly 20,000 Texans that Kroger employs in and around the Houston areaFurthering their commitment to protect both employees and customers, Kroger stores nationwide are requiring all customers to join with employees in wearing face masks, becoming the latest addition in the company’s long list of health and safety initiatives.

Despite these ongoing efforts, the Union Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) continues to propagate counterproductive attacks against companies like Kroger for their COVID-19 response. But not everyone is on the same page as UFCW. Forbes recently ranked Kroger in the top ten companies for their comprehensive and forward-leaning response to the pandemic. In addition, a recent Axios poll found Kroger as one of America’s top ten companies since the start of COVID-19 – a testament to the company’s commitment to serving communities across the nation.

The UFCW – who have elected to exploit this pandemic as a power grab – should instead collaborate with companies to uplift communities in need. Billions in support has already been invested by large retail and grocery chains across the country but unions continue to demand more. The singular focus by the UFCW of demanding an indefinite extension of the temporary extra pay Kroger provided its employees at the beginning of the pandemic does nothing to protect grocery store workers from coming into contact with or spreading COVID-19, and discourages companies from taking such voluntary actions in the future.

It would be fair to assume that since the UFCW is demanding more money be put into their members’ pockets that they themselves have frozen dues payments for their members nationwide – right? 

Unfortunately, this commonsense solution has been rejected by UFCW even though Kroger has increased its workforce by more than 20% since the beginning of the pandemic – hiring more than 100,000 new employees – likely in turn increasing UFCW’s dues revenue brought in from Kroger-related union members.

The UFCW will likely continue its barrage against stores like Kroger while union leadership continues to profit off of hardworking members. This should come as no surprise, however, considering the previous UFCW 455 president that represents the workers in and around Houston had an annual salary of nearly $500,000 in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

We must rise above the partisan rhetoric that has permeated the many debates around policies surrounding COVID-19. A recent op-ed from former Democratic Congressman Gene Green, for example, shows how protecting our frontline workers is not a Republican or Democratic issue. The health and safety of our communities - and essential employees - must be above this partisan game in order to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic stronger than we went into it.

Jeff Moseley has four decades of public and private sector experience advising clients and associations in the transportation industry and economic development sectors across Texas. He is the former Greater Houston Partnership President and former President of The Texas Association of Business.

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