The bargaining situation of our varied membership over the last two years has largely been defined by COVID-19. Some employers’ fortunes waned and members needed to fend off deep cuts in wages and benefits. Just as many employers did well, with members able to push for further advantage. Nearly everywhere members had to negotiate special memorandums of understanding regarding issues such as paid time off, worker safety, and hazard pay—often on multiple occasions.
In 2021, the working class is at a decided advantage when it comes to higher wages. While the elevated unemployment of the pandemic has not fully come to an end, many workers are unwilling to return for the low wages offered by management. Workplaces—both union and non-union—are as a result increasing their starting pay, which in turn has caused a record level of voluntary quits, as workers leave their existing positions in favor of higher pay elsewhere. We have already had this reap dividends at the table, with first year wages reported as up to three times higher than prior to the pandemic.
Many members received some reprieve on health insurance last year, as premium increases were relatively low due to many individuals forgoing healthcare treatments. However, utilization began to return to normal in 2021, and is expected to make a full “recovery” by next year. Bosses will continue to find ways to shift costs onto workers, including pushing for higher premium shares, higher deductibles, coinsurance and copays, more restrictive provider networks and pharmaceutical formularies, or some combination of all of these. A new potential avenue that employers may begin to abuse is telemedicine, which expanded nearly 40-fold during the pandemic, now makes up approximately 15% of all office visits, and is much cheaper for insurers and employers to cover.
The right to retire remains in crisis. Defined-benefit pension plans are now rare in the private sector, and increasingly under threat in the public sector as well. During the pandemic members faced down multiple demands by employers to temporarily suspend defined-contribution plan payments. UE continues to prioritize the protection of members’ retirement benefits.
Even during the depths of the pandemic, UE members have minimized losses and made significant gains. This is a testament to what a rank-and-file union can accomplish. We can and will accomplish even more during the post-pandemic period.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 77th UE CONVENTION:
- Calls for education and mobilization of members in preparation for the aggressive campaigns that are necessary for favorable contract settlements;
- Calls for broadening contract struggles beyond the bargaining table by including strategic campaigns, shareholder actions, and labor-community alliances;
- Calls for building solidarity with other unions, especially those of the same employer, engaged in contract fights;
- Calls on locals to keep members informed and mobilized at every stage of negotiations;
- Directs the national union to continue providing;
- Research packets to UE workplaces entering contract negotiations, and to continue including in these materials the suggested bargaining goals list based upon best practices of UE locals developed through years of struggle;
- Trainings, workshops, and in-person support by regional or national officers.