We are workers at a local union grocery store. For years we have gotten to know our customers. As we have done our jobs, we have also received a decent day's pay for a hard day's work. And, as a result of bargaining a fair contract, we have been able to have quality affordable health care coverage for ourselves and our families and a retirement plan that we can depend on when we get older.
These kinds of jobs are part of what make Bellingham a great place to live and raise a family. But that way of life is under threat.
It has recently been announced that a growing anti-union discount grocery is moving into town. WINCO has been elbowing its way in Western Washington over the last several years and now is looking to locate here. While there is nothing wrong with businesses competing for our dollars, that competition should take place on an even playing field.
An even playing field is something that WINCO and Walmart and many companies like them not only oppose, but they actively fight. Their business models are based on paying workers less in wages and offering lame or non-existent benefits. And then they use some of those "savings" to pass along to customers. But the savings are not really savings at all. They are just a cost that is less obvious.
A report released earlier this year (Check out the report by Chris Fowler at pugetsoundsage.org) found that a Walmart coming into a neighborhood would result in the net loss of millions of dollars in lost wages. There are similar types of impacts that can be expected by the low-paying, no-benefits jobs at a place like WINCO.
For years we have been working to keep big anti-union grocery stores out of Bellingham. We have opposed efforts by Walmart to expand in Bellingham. And we as workers, joined together in our union UFCW 21 have taken legal, political and local community action to protect good local jobs with benefits from the likes of WINCO and Walmart. But workers can't do it alone.
We need politicians to stand up for the economy and health of our local community. We need politicians to stand up for the protections at jobs that pay a living wage and provide health and retirement benefits. When workers get a decent paycheck we spend that money in the community, from cars and houses to groceries and Christmas trees.
When workers get decent, affordable health coverage, we are able to do what we can to keep our families healthy as well as take care of them when we are sick. When workers get a retirement plan that provides a level of security when we get older, our whole community is better off and we can live with dignity and remain an active member of the community well into old-age.
Companies like WINCO that come in and offer jobs that drive down local wages don't help pull our struggling economy back onto the road to recovery. They drive our economy further into the ditch by destroying family-wage jobs. It really is that simple.
We hope you join us in the ongoing struggle to protect decent jobs in the Bellingham community. We need to stand together to keep our way of life and not allow those who would threaten it to get their way. As grocery store workers, we were never part of the 1 percent and have always been willing to work hard and play by the rules. We need to make sure we don't allow others to push down our quality of life for their own profit. Thanks for standing with us.
Susan Richardson and Julie Nicholson, both of Bellingham, work in local grocery stores. They are also both members of United Food and Commercial Workers International 21, the state's largest private-sector union with more than 44,000 members working in grocery stores and retail, health care and other industry jobs. Find more information at ufcw21.org.