UFCW Local 464A President, John T. Niccollai, welcomed over three hundred Shop Stewards and guests to the local union’s annual seminar in Little Falls, NJ on October 21. Held each year in October, the seminar is a key event meant to bring knowledge and inspiration to those representatives of Local 464A who are on the frontlines of the union’s efforts to aid members. Joining President Niccollai was an array of speakers, most notably Marc Perrone and Pat O’Neill from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union who will ascend to the top two leadership positions beginning in 2015.
President Niccollai Welcomes Shop Stewards
“I wish to welcome you to our annual Shop Stewards Seminar,” opened Niccollai. “Today’s purpose is to impart knowledge. We hope you will know more about your local union, the international union and the issues impacting unionism across America than you knew when you arrived. We also hope that you will enjoy yourselves and build camaraderie with your fellow stewards. I am both proud and pleased to announce that Marc Perrone is with us from the UFCW International. Marc is a consummate leader who will take the reins as President of our international union upon the retirement of Joe Hansen at the end of 2014. I am also very pleased that Pat O’Neill is here. Pat currently serves as the international union’s Executive Vice President and Director of Organizing but, like Marc, will ascend to the key leadership role of UFCW Secretary-Treasurer. Together these two men will lead our international union to phenomenal success just as Joe Hansen has done during his tenure as President."
Richard J. Whalen Praises Shop Stewards
Speaking to the stewards in his capacity as Local 464a’s new Secretary-Treasurer for the first time, Rich Whalen thanked them for their hard work and sacrifice on behalf of all members. “You are the backbone of this union. No union can be effective or succeed without knowledgeable and skilled Shop Stewards. By helping your co-workers and serving as the information expert whenever there are questions and concerns, you bring the benefits of membership in Local 464A directly to every place of employment, enabling the union to achieve its purpose to serve. I am proud to be a part of the UFCW and proud to serve with your president of Local 464A. I want all of you to know that I have known John for many years both in my former capacity as Region One Director and now as a member of his leadership team at Local 464A. There is no local union president who works harder or is more knowledgeable and effective than John T. Niccollai. In particular, his hands-on attention to the growth and safety of your pension and health care funds is a model for all other union leaders. Under his leadership we can all be safe in the knowledge that our financial security and health care benefits will remain protected.”
President Niccollai introduced incoming UFCW International President, Marc Perrone by addressing Perrone’s important role during the hard negotiations with the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company following its bankruptcy filing. “We are still alive at A&P/Pathmark because Marc Perrone came up during the negotiations and held our region together.”
Marc Perrone On Pension Issues
Perrone addressed the national assault on pension protections by corporate and political leaders throughout the U.S. “Many of you may not know the difference between defined benefit and defined contribution pension plans. At UFCW Local 464A you are one a dwindling few organizations that can depend on a safe, secure pension for life. That’s a defined benefit pension plan bargained for by your union and paid for by your employers. The alternative that is being forced upon many other local unions and non-bargained for workers in America is a defined contribution plan often called a 401k. These plans, requiring workers to pay into securities and other investment vehicles, are dependent upon the performance of financial markets for growth. The problem with this type of plan is no one knows for certain when he or she will retire and no one knows for certain what they will have from year to year when they do. We need only look back at 2008 when the Great Recession began and many people with defined contribution plans or 401ks were financially wiped out. That won’t happen under a defined benefit plan such as yours here at Local 464A, which is well-managed and solidly funded. That is equally true of the UFCW National Pension Fund where we have over $6B under management.
“Under defined contribution plans the average monthly pension payment to retired workers is a mere $500. But even that number is high because it includes corporate executives whose payments skew the average higher. If they are factored out the average monthly payment is far less. Yet corporations continue to replace defined benefit plans with these inferior defined contribution plans and many have stripped employees from any pension plan at all. During negotiations with bankrupt A&P we sat across the table from our adversary, a man who had just joined the company from United Airlines where he had eliminated pensions for pilots and flight attendants altogether. Employers want us to improve productivity to add money to their pockets, but they tell us they don’t have the money to fund our pension or health care plans. We deserve more than that. We deserve every penny we earn and we achieve this by bargaining.
“Local 464A manages three defined benefit pension plans for its members all strictly measured by the government and all receiving the highest green zone rating for superior funding and safety. By contrast, two-thirds of all pension plans in America are in the lowest red zone. That means that people in those plans could lose everything at anytime. The key takeaways from this are simple; defined benefit plans like the ones at UFCW Local 464A pay for life, but defined contribution plans and 401ks are not designed for this purpose and do not. We must fight and bargain with our employers to preserve our financial security and we must pay close attention to politics and the words of our elected officials. Where do our politicians stand on defined benefit pension plans? Only by paying attention, understanding where our employers and politicians stand and fighting for what we deserve can we preserve financial security for our families and ourselves.”
President Niccollai Introduces Dietitian, Heather Shasa
Heather Shasa, a dietitian, introduced the LiveRight program recently featured at ShopRite stores in the region. Shasa, in an informative presentation, displayed sobering statistics on the four leading causes of poor health and death in America; cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. She told the stewards that six hundred thousand die of heart disease every year in the U.S. (18,700 in NJ), twenty-four million people have diabetes (6th leading cause of death in NJ), Passaic County leads the state in breast cancer cases, and obesity is rampant. “ShopRite offers free nutrition services to groups and individuals. The LiveRight program offers counseling, menu ideas, recipes and makeovers enabling healthier options for families. We also do free health care screenings. We encourage healthier diets particularly for children with an emphasis on more fruits and vegetables.” Citing the positive impact that eating healthy can have on each of the above causes of disease, Shasa left the Stewards with an easy to remember acronym called SNACK; S – Smaller portions, N – Not in front of the television (people tend to eat too much when watching TV), A – Am I really hungry? (We often eat for the wrong reasons), C – Choose lower fat foods, and K – Kitchen (Sit down and eat at the dinner table together)
Niccollai Stresses Keys to a Healthy Life Style
Prior to introducing the next speaker, President Niccollai, emphasized the importance of other factors that contribute to a long and healthy life. “Some time ago the television show, 60 Minutes, presented a story about people who live long lives. They studied individuals for twenty years between the ages of seventy and ninety. The results were surprising. They found that taking extra vitamins made no difference to life expectancy, smoking is the one thing never to do, drinking one or two alcoholic beverages per day can actually extend life, it is better to be a little overweight as we age (not more than 5 or 10 pounds) because it protects against catastrophic weight loss during serious illness, slightly high blood pressure is not a serious concern for life expectancy and getting adequate sleep is very important.”
The first woman Director of UFCW Region One, Christina Hajagos-Clausen, took the podium to an ovation. “Just last week I sat in solidarity with Walmart workers at a demonstration in Manhattan and was arrested. That’s what retail workers’ alliances must do to fight for the common good and move forward for the collective benefit of all Americans. Some Walmart workers sleep in cars in the parking lot because they are not paid enough and do not receive enough working hours to live a decent life
Christina Hajagos-Clausen Comes to the Podium
“The Walmart economy cannot sustain America and Walmart is influencing other retailers that are copying its bad practices. That is why ours is an important fight for Walmart workers that can also lead to a change for the better for America. How is it that Walmart workers in other countries like Chile, Argentina and Brazil sit-down and negotiate a contract? Why can’t we do that in America?” The Director of Region One described actions to be taken against Walmart during the busy shopping season including teaching consumers that there are other places to shop. “We must continue to fight Walmart and fight for our country.”
In support of Hajagos-Clausen, President Niccollai urged the Shop Stewards to enhance their skills to be more effective union leaders. “Always introduce yourselves to new union members in your stores. Describe your responsibilities and how you can help. Know and explain every union member’s Weingarten Rights. Know your contracts and be prepared to answer questions and when you have a question or a problem call your union. If you need help we’re always here. Always be professional, helpful and friendly.
“Christine has told us about the Walmart economy. She has said that workers in other countries like Argentina have the right to negotiate with Walmart. This bothers me. There is a tremendous difference in this country’s attitude toward working people. We are being treated as if we are second-class citizens. The one percent, people with the big money, are taking us back to the bad days when workers didn’t count and were not valued. This is what causes riots – when politicians stop listening to the concerns of the populace
President Niccollai Expresses Disappointment with Politicians
“I am disappointed in the Obama Administration because it has stopped fighting for union issues. Congress is even worse. It is supposed to be doing our business, but they no longer care. It’s only about their self-interest. George Washington said that our nation should never tolerate professional politicians. He was right. When people hold governemental office too long they begin to take money from pressure groups and lobbyists. They forget about the people they were elected to serve; working men and women. America is losing its middle-class and workers are the enemy if they belong to a union. Executives are taking money for themselves and paying the rest to shareholders. There is nothing left for the workers who help make their businesses and corporations successful. I don’t see politicians standing up to protect the middle-class. Instead, they serve special interests that want to kill unions. This is not what America is about where a small few have everything and the rest are just getting by. America is not a country where its citizens will sit back and take it forever. But only if workers unite and demand their rights can the pendulum swing back to fairness. The fight is never ending.“
After lunch the Shop Stewards were entertained by a hilarious presentation on the power of the human mind by noted Comedian-Hypnotist,Bruce James. James, who has appeared on various television shows, explained how the mind can be used to make us aware of what is positive all around us. “We are all hypnotized everyday as we go about our affairs. For example, how often do you leave work and drive home only to arrive in your driveway without being able to recall the twists and turns that brought you there. Your mind was in a state of hypnosis as you drove, bringing you safely home, but also dwelling on other matters that occupied your consciousness."
Hypnotist, Bruce James & Assistant Christine
Fourteen volunteers came forward from the audience and took the stage. In a stunning demonstration, James brought all fourteen under hypnosis and proceeded to showcase its power. “People are meant to be spontaneous and creative. Hypnosis shows the difference between consciously thinking and being subconsciously aware.” He took the hypnotized volunteers through a series of humorous activities from seeing famous celebrities in the audience who were not present to lip synching and dancing to the sound of popular songs. At the end he brought the volunteers back to consciousness. Each was completely relaxed, but could not recall any of the actions he or she had taken over the previous forty-five minutes. James explained the message behind his demonstration. “For a moment hypnosis can enable us to be childlike. We can use the power of our minds to be more aware and to change perception from bad to good.”
14 Volunteers Allowed Themselves to be Hypnotized
In a stirring speech, incoming UFCW International Secretary-Treasurer, Pat O’Neill closed the speaking agenda and energized the audience by charting the essence of trade unionism, its noble purpose and the many challenges unions must face in order to raise standards for workers across the country. “I look around the nation and I see too many unions operating like corporations. I see a top-down approach that fails to recognize the groundswell of workers speaking up for their rights. There is an uprising at Walmart and in fast food. There is a movement to raise the minimum wage, make scheduling practices fairer and give every worker paid time off. The top-down corporate approach to unionism looks at the Walmart campaign and says it’s a failure because we have not added any dues paying members
Patrick J. O'Neill, Stirring Words on Trade Unionism
"The trade unionist understands that the pressure we put on Walmart has allowed companies like Kroger to grow, creating more union jobs. The top-down corporate unionism sees legislative efforts to improve the lives of workers as threats to our existence. If the government mandates decent wages and benefits why will workers join a union? The trade unionist sees progressive legislation as a way to raise standards for workers across the board and open new opportunities at the bargaining table…We are made up of workers not shareholders. We are a movement not an institution…We can embark on a new day for the labor movement where we stand together and organize together and bargain together and fight together and vote together and win together - a day where we can confront injustice head-on and show all workers just what it means to be a union.”
Niccollai Emphasizes the Importance of Unions
Prior to closing the seminar and introducing Local 464A’s Union Agents and Organizers, President Niccollai added his voice to the purposes served by trade unionism. “If we are not covering workers’ backs we are not doing our job. This is an era when pension plans are going broke and medical benefits are going away. Not here, not at UFCW Local 464A and not for you. We are successful because we are involved and we stay involved. I fear that we are entering a time of class warfare. Those who have the most want more and they want those who have less to have a lot less. Their vision of America is a populace living in squalor. We will not give up anything. We will never let failure be the legacy we leave to future union generations.”
Seminar Closes with Introduction of Agents & Organizers
Pledge of Allegiance
Some in the Audience