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Bringing democracy into the workplace

June 27, 2019 Updated: September 8, 2020

Two UFCW members hold red white and blue themed flowers in the floral section of a grocery store
UFCW members at Kroger store #410 in Memphis

Every Fourth of July, Americans celebrate the values that have sustained the nation in the nearly 250 years since the Declaration of Independence clearly articulated a shared belief that “all men are created equal” and that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The basic principle of democracy is that people should have a say in decisions that affect them. This is also one of the core values behind why labor unions exist.

Without unions, workplaces operate like dictatorships: decisions are made by an elite few while workers bear the consequences of policy decisions.

If a dictator of a country took the attitude of “if people don’t like it here, they can leave,” we wouldn’t accept that as “democratic,” but that is unfortunately a common attitude management takes in many workplaces. And just like there are many reasons that might prevent a person from up and moving to another country, not everyone is in a position to be able to leave their job so easily.

“When we work together, we win together,” said Christine Taranto, a licensed practical nurse at Valley View Manor Nursing Home in Norwich, N.Y. The staff at Valley View Manor Nursing Home recently decided to join the UFCW after concerns about fair scheduling, wages and paid time off. “For far too long, our scheduling practices have limited our ability to provide patients with the care they need and deserve,” continued Taranto. “I’m proud that we were able to win a voice at the table for both workers and the people we care for every day. I know everyone who works alongside me knows that representation from the union will change our future here.”

If democracy is a truly important value to us, then it is important to fight for it at work where people often spend over half their waking life.

Engaging workers in workplace policies and conditions isn’t just about abstracted values, it also translates to better results for everyone, from the company to the individual.

In the meatpacking industry, UFCW members worked with Tyson to develop an ergonomics program informed by what was actually happening on the plant floor, and in doing so transformed an industry. The three decades-long partnership now serves as a model for the industry and has evolved to include improvements that have helped reduce workplace injuries and illnesses.

“What this program shows is that when workers have input on working conditions, when they are part of the decision-making process, you come up with a better, safer environment—and that’s good for everybody,” said UFCW Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division Director Mark Lauritsen.

As a UFCW member, you should feel proud of not only being part of a democratic country, but of doing your part to make sure our workplaces are democratic, as well.

Two UFCW members hold red white and blue themed flowers in the floral section of a grocery store
UFCW members at Kroger store #410 in Memphis, TN.
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