Member Profile: Mike Davis

mike davisFor 38 years, retired UFCW member Mike Davis worked at Kroger as a member of Local 550 and later Local 700. We chatted with him this week about his experience as a union member:

Beginning work at Kroger at age 17 in 1969 in Indiana, Mike says he decided to work there because it was “a good outfit” which paid a good wage and provided benefits. Back then, he says, everyone got raises once a year, and from 1968 to 2003, “I never paid a dime for medical” or healthcare.

In 1970, Mike joined the army reserve and was on active duty while still working for Kroger–which he did for over 20 years.

Under his union contract in 1983, Mike reflects that  he and his coworkers were making over $10 and hour, had ten personal days, and some even had six weeks vacation. Then Mike was out on army leave for three years. When he returned, things in the store were not as good as they had been previously, and eventually Indiana became a Right to Work state, making Kroger one of the only union grocery stores in the state. “In Indiana,” he says, “if you’re hurt on the job, your employer will pay your medical bills but once you are able to come back to work they can fire you.”

However, it’s being a union member, Mike says, that ensured his job remained a good one throughout the years, and keeps jobs protected: “The UFCW fighting for us was what got us back.”

When Mike’s former manager gave him a hard time about getting weekends off for when he had army reserve training and drilling, which is a federally protected right, Mike stood up to him, knowing that the union was behind him. Nevertheless, the manager still tried to fire him for not being at the store when he had to fulfill his duty with the reserves. So, Mike filed an official grievance with the union. Mike’s UFCW Local stood with him and helped him ensure that his rights as a union member and army reservist, as well as his job, were protected.

Mike also says that being a union member helped him win justice when he was wrongfully accused of stealing cigarettes from the store by a manager, and was told he was fired. When Mike, the union, and management met to settle the dispute, it turned out that the store had scheduled a week of vacation for Mike’s coworker, who had witnessed him paying for the cigarettes, so that he would not be able to vouch for Mike’s innocence at the meeting. But the union backed Mike up in proving management wrong, and Mike not only was rightfully able to keep his job, but the manager was transferred to another store.

“I’m glad the UFCW had my back for all those years because there were managers who didn’t want to obey labor laws and thought our contracts were a floor mat,” he says, looking back at these experiences. “I was lucky to have good representation and make good friends.”

Now that he’s retired, Mike still follows the union lifestyle by telling all his family and friends to buy union.  He also supports Walmart workers and other workers fighting to make their jobs better. As a vet, Mike finds it upsetting that Walmart has been said to change the job titles of workers who are out on military leave, so that when they return they don’t have to keep them at the same position of level of pay that they were before they left.

Mike also enjoys doing polar plunges with his family and volunteering for the state’s plane pull each year, all in order to raise money for the Special Olympics. He also manages to find time to lobby on Capital Hill with a charity group called American Veterans, which he has helped raise money for now for many years.

“It’s all about trying to pay it forward,” Mike says. That’s why he wants younger new hires at Kroger, or any workplace, to get involved with the union and be proactive. Educating people about what being a union member is can help ensure that they aren’t taken advantage of at work, Mike says.

Like Mike’s story? Share your union story with us by going here.

UFCW Gold Internship Recap

GOLD-Group-Photo-300x200The GOLD Internship Program came to a close last week at a final debrief in Chicago. Thirty six interns reflected upon their four week action projects and planned for how they could be effective activists when they return to their local unions. Action projects took place all across the country.

  • In Chicago: GOLD interns helped deliver 25,000 signatures to the Mayor in support of paid sick leave.
  • In Mississippi and North Carolina: GOLD interns helped hundreds of people register to vote.
  • In California: GOLD interns helped the “Summer for Respect” campaign in their fight to give workers a stronger voice.
  • In San Francisco: GOLD interns campaigned for the Retail Worker Bill of Rights, a bill which would guarantee fair schedules and full-time hours for retail workers.
  • In Iowa City: GOLD interns partnered with the Center for Worker Justice to document cases of wage theft.
  • In Washington D.C., South Carolina, and Florida: GOLD interns traveled to poultry facilities to capture stories from UFCW members who were injured while on the job.

Here’s what interns said about their GOLD internship experience: “One of the biggest things I learned from this program is that you can make a difference if you just try. We held a workshop to inform immigrant workers of their rights, and help them with the housing process. It was amazing to see how much they appreciated something that was fairly easy and simple to do. Making a difference in the community is something new to me—I’m not a steward and I wasn’t ever overly involved with my union, but through GOLD I learned a lot and am looking forward to going home and helping to improve my own community.” – Gerardo Garcia, UFCW Local 99, Iowa City Worker Center Action Project.

“It was a great summer – it just felt good to help people and be a part of a movement. Instead of just saying ‘I don’t like my job’ or ‘we need a raise’ this internship taught me how important it is to stand up and involve yourself and your co-workers. If someone were considering this program, I would tell them to do it. If I learned anything this summer, it’s that the more active people we have in our union, the better life will be for workers everywhere.”  – Fawzi Ghantous, UFCW Local 1445, Organizing in Maryland Action Project.

“I became a GOLD intern because too many union members, myself partially included, don’t fully understand what our union is about. They have no idea what we stand for, and that makes me really sad. This internship builds us up and gives us the knowledge to go back to our locals and give them inspiration to say, ‘You know what, we are one! And if you have an issue, we are fighting it together; you don’t have to do this alone.’ I’ve been a union member for almost 12 years, and I didn’t realize the power we have until this summer. Now I know that I have a lot of people backing me up and fighting for me.” – Tracy Officer, UFCW Local 653, Organizing in Seattle Action Project.

“I personally think people should become GOLD interns because you take away more than just the organizing aspect of it—you take away more than just learning about the history of what the union is— I’m going to be taking away friendships that will last a lifetime and connections with people from other places that I never would have interacted with if I hadn’t been a GOLD intern.” – Samantha Christian, UFCW Local 770, Freedom Summer Action Project in Jackson, Mississippi.

“My favorite part of the summer was when we did a sick time action that was a huge success. A lot of people showed up and we had people honking horns, we had customers going in and telling management they support us 100%. We did a petition and ended up collecting about 600 signatures from associates and customers and we presented them to the managers inside. It felt good to feel like we had accomplished something and it was just a really moving experience to see how happy and supportive everyone was.” – Ariana Marie Davis, UFCW Local 21, “Summer for Respect”, Northern California.

“I would say do this program. There are problems in every workplace and the GOLD Internship is a good way to meet people that might have similar stories and possible solutions. You are in a setting in which you can feed off of each other—take ideas and adapt them to your situation.” – Erica Clemmons, UFCW Local 1059, Earned Sick Time Campaign, Chicago, Illinois.

Although the internship has ended, the real work is just beginning. The skills and experience learned by interns will carry beyond this summer – GOLD interns will be an asset to UFCW Locals and the International for years to come.