Lots of labor news in the last three weeks - and in some ways, the 21,000-member union local led by Wendell Young 4th has been at the heart of all of it.
On Feb. 19, for example, Walmart announced it would raise minimum wages for its workers to $9 an hour starting in April. In Philadelphia, and across the nation, the United Food and Commercial Workers union has spent at least the last two decades pressuring Walmart on its wage policies.
On Feb. 26, the Pennsylvania House voted to privatize the state's liquor stores. The majority of employees in those stores are represented by UFCW Local 1776, headed by Young.
And on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted to squelch rule changes by the National Labor Relations Board that would have speeded up the union election process. Young's union, like many others, disagrees with the Senate vote.
Question: Let's start with that Harrisburg perennial, the push to privatize state liquor stores. You don't seem as worried about it this year as you have been in the past when former Gov. Tom Corbett favored the idea.
Answer: The Senate is not as interested in privatization as [House Speaker] Mike Turzai is. They weren't the last time and they still aren't. And you have a governor who vowed to veto it. Even in [his] budget address, he made it clear that we have a valuable asset and we should improve it.
Q: So why does the privatization of state liquor stores keep coming up?
A: Certain wholesalers don't like the fact that Pennsylvania can use its size to leverage better prices so they make less money. They would make more money in a private system because hundreds of individual operators will not have the buying power that Pennsylvania does.
Q: What about Walmart's announcement?
A: The UFCW has played an important role in highlighting the terrible employment policies, their discriminatory practices, and their disregard for the law, and this has put a lot of pressure on this company. I think their claim to raise wages is a result of this pressure.
Q: Critics of the NLRB rule changes describe the speeded-up election process as ambush elections, or quickie elections. What's your take?
A: The biggest challenge of the labor movement is that it is very difficult for workers today to exercise workplace democracy and have a free and fair election. They can get an election, but it's not free and fair. The employer violates the law, usually, by disciplining or firing people early on in the [organizing] campaign to discourage others from supporting the union. The legal process takes a long time to remedy that and there's no teeth left in the remedies.
Q: So how would a quicker election help?
A: Delaying elections only serves to give the employers more time to intimidate people.
Q: What don't most people understand about unions?
A: Some people think that unions are responsible for putting companies out of business. That's a stereotypical view. The fact is that we need organizations to be successful. If they aren't doing well, our members are working for less. Pretty much everyone I know in labor takes the same approach.
Q: You started out working in stores and officially you are still an Acme employee on leave. What was your favorite job?
A: Express cashier. It made the day go by fast.
Q: You wake up in the middle of the night to check your e-mail.
A: It drives my girlfriend nuts. I turn off the noise. If I'm in bed any more than four hours, then I get restless.
WENDELL YOUNG 4th
Home: Lower Providence Twp.
Family: Daughters Rachel, 34, Alexandra, 22, Nicole, 19.
Lives with: Nancy Flanagan, her four children, his two youngest.
High school: Archbishop Ryan
Elsewhere: Labor leadership certificates at Cornell, St. Joseph's.
To relax: Makes spaghetti with clams, watches sci-fi movies.
Star Trek hero: Captain Kirk.
Why: "He is very active in fighting big conspiracies and well-organized, well-financed evil-doers." EndText
Union: United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1776, Plymouth Meeting.
Revenue: $16.6 million.
Represents: Pa. State Store workers; Acme Market, Pathmark, Superfresh, Rite Aid, Wise Foods, Pocono Springs employees; nursing home workers in upstate Pennsylvania; staffers at other unions.
Why Young's father, a union leader, said: Don't follow me. www.philly.com/jobbing. EndText