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Member Spotlight: Local 1500’s ‘Battling’ Barbara Balos

Originally posted on Labor Press

16e5cef5ebc8d47ba5afdd323a28d900_w225_h169_scIn her 25 years with UFCW Local 1500, Barbara Balos, 48, has helped run several major chain supermarkets throughout the city. For the last several years, the Long Island mom has been the non-foods manager at a bustling Bronx Pathmark, overseeing ordering, deliveries and more. Balos has a knack for getting things done – and that steady determination has not only helped her employers succeed, it’s also helped win better conditions for co-workers; raise a ton of money for numerous charitable organizations, and even change the way New York State protects its children.

“I have been a shop steward for Local 1500 for about 8 years, and have many wonderful opportunities with the union,” Balos says.

Many times, Balos is called upon to help correct unsafe working conditions like an overflowed grease pit or wonky loading dock – the kinds of things that could land an unlucky employee in the hospital.

Lately, however, Balos’ problem-solving skills have been tested trying to help co-workers reclaim lost hours guaranteed under their union contract, and securing new apartments for hard-pressed employees who’ve been reduced to part-time status as an unintended consequence of the Affordable Healthcare Act, and no longer able to make the rent.

One co-worker was forced to flee an abusive home environment and actually ended up on the street, while another had his Brooklyn apartment sold beneath his feet.

“Believe it or not, it happens a lot,” Balos says. “Unfortunately, a lot of the people I work with are part-timers. They’re getting 16-hours a week, and it’s tough to make ends meet. With the Obama care law, we’ve had problems with part-timers not getting enough hours, because they can’t go over that 30-hour threshold, so a lot of times, management will cut back on hours. But we help out our own.”

Over the course her union career, Balos has repeatedly met with members of the New York City Council, to make sure they understand just how important labor unions continue to be for workers like her.

“People are afraid to talk to management and stand up for their rights, or even to ask a question,”  says Balos. “Many times, management will try to get away with things they shouldn’t.”

Just this past Christmas, Balos says the nicest present she received was a phone call from an older co-worker who faced the very real possibility of losing his job after arbitrarily being reassigned to a position he was not well-suited.

“I became a shop steward because I truly enjoy helping people and consider the other members as my family,” Balos says. “We rally around each other.”

Balos initially became politically active about 11 years ago, following a devastating incident which compelled her to try and convince the New York State Legislature to toughen the laws concerning convicted sex offenders.

“At the time, anyone who was a level 2 or 3 sex offender got off their probation period, and were off the sex offense registry,” Balos says. “There was talk from some senators about passing a bill to keep those offenders on the registry for life. So, I wrote to my local senator, told my story, and got a few thousand petitions signed to change the law.”

Not long after that, the Local 1500 shop steward was shocked to learn that her moving appeal would be heard on the floor of the New York State Senate.

“It was a great honor to help out,” Balos said. “We won that battle and got the laws changed. It was wonderful to know that I was a part of that.”

Balos continues to be passionate about activism, especially union activism.

“I think people are trying to cut corners and cut costs,” Balos says. “But our union can be tough. And management, no matter where they are, doesn’t want that.”

For the last few years, Balos’ daughter has been working at a non-union shop while attending college. For the Balos household, the enduring importance of organized labor is not some abstract ideological question to batted around endlessly by elites. Its efficacy is demonstrated daily in real life.

“When [my daughter] first started there, literally ever day, she should would come home saying, ‘I’m going to get fired. My boss is going to fire me because I asked for this day off. He just fired another person for no reason,’” Balos says. “There have been a lot of things that she goes through where I tell her – if you were union, that would not happen.”

Richest One Percent Will Own More Than Half the World’s Wealth by 2016

Alice and Jim Walton

Alice and Jim Walton

A new report by Oxfam underscores the fact that income inequality is continuing to rise to dangerous levels. The report, titled Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More, estimates that the combined wealth of the richest one percent will exceed that of the 99 percent next year unless actions are taken to curb inequality.

According to the report, the wealthy few increased their global wealth from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014. Based on this trend, the combined wealth of the richest one percent is expected to be more than 50 percent in 2016. The report also notes that just 80 of the wealthiest people in the world possess a combined wealth of $1.9 trillion, which is nearly the same amount shared by 3.5 billion people, or the poorest 50 percent of the global population.

Thirty-five of the 80 richest people in the world are Americans, and the top 10 ten richest people in the world include Christy and Jim Walton, heirs to the Walmart empire.

In Many States, the New Year Equals New Minimum Wage Increases

Raise-the-Wage-266x3002015 brought a pay raise for millions of Americans as minimum wage increases go into effect across the country. Minimum wage workers in 21 states and the District of Columbia will see their pay rise. For the first time ever, a majority of U.S. states will have a minimum wage above the federal minimum.

From supporting a ballot initiative in Arkansas to lobbying for the passage of legislation in Maryland, these wage hikes are happening in large part because of the hard work and dedication of UFCW members.

UFCW members have championed a raise for workers because the current minimum wage has left too many families struggling to make ends meet. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 has seen its spending power fall by nearly one-third since its peak in 1968 – it fails to keep workers and their families out of poverty.

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $10.10 and they failed to act. In 2015, UFCW members will be pushing the 114th Congress to follow the lead of 29 states and the nation’s capital and raise the minimum wage so that no worker is forced to live in poverty.