At press time, some 31,000 unionized grocery workers were reviewing a tentative new contract on the heels of an 11-day strike in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The agreement between the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Stop & Shop’s parent company, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize, preserves health care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members, the union reported.
Strikes are always an absolute last resort, but in this case, workers had little choice. The company had proposed unreasonable cuts to workers’ take-home pay, health care and pension benefits. That’s despite management taking in more than $2 billion in 2018 and authorizing over $4 billion in stock buybacks from 2017 to 2019, the UFCW noted.
In fact, Ahold Delhaize (which also owns the viciously anti-union Food Lion chain) sought to cut pension benefits by more than 70 percent, raise health care premiums by nearly 90 percent and exclude spouses from health coverage.
But the real story here is the workers’ solidarity and the outpouring of community support that buoyed members and their families from the five UFCW locals. Like the unionized teachers who’ve also stood up and stood together in recent years in numerous states, the grocery workers said enough is enough and proved grassroots action works. They demonstrated that unions very clearly still have power and relevance.
The SIU supported this job action at rallies and with other assistance, and we’ll be there for our union brothers and sisters with money, marbles and chalk wherever and whenever needed.
Much has already been written about the possible use of autonomous ships, and several European-based firms currently are testing crewless vessels.
Considering the news we often see about massive, global-scale hacking and data breaches, ransomware and more, hey, what could possibly go wrong on 1,000-foot ships totally controlled by computers? On a more serious note, fatalities in some of the early usage of driverless automobiles are the ultimate signal that caution is in order.
Listen, we’ve never tried to stand in the way of progress. In our industry, the norm 30 years ago provided crews on containerships and tankers somewhere in the range of 35 to 40 mariners top to bottom. Today, as technology develops into automated systems, crew sizes for vessels three to four times larger are in the 18-22 range.
But automation should be a tool to assist workers in making their jobs safer and more efficient – not a means to replace them.
Very simply, workers and the need for jobs must be part of the discussion regarding automation. As systems and technology evolve, so must workers and their unions. We will identify the new opportunities that present themselves in the years ahead. We’ll develop and provide training and education to prepare our members for these new avenues.
The SIU and the labor movement as a whole will make sure people are prominently considered as changes continue affecting everyday life. We’ll ensure that new technologies being introduced into our industry are done with safety in the forefront of planning, and we’ll stand up for our members and other workers to make sure they reap the benefits of such change and are not cast overboard.
Even though autonomous ships on any sort of significant scale are many, many years away, our bottom line is that the human element must be as important as financial factors and convenience when change is considered and implemented.