Building America, Fighting Greed

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Building America, Fighting Greed
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The widowed single mom attacked grocery shopping with the doggedness of a Marine on a mission.

To provide for her family in the face of corporate price-gouging, she bought off-brand items and selected eggs for protein instead of higher-costing meat. She even worked multiple jobs to keep the family solvent.

And despite the challenges she faced, she never complained, recalled Denny Mitchell, a longtime United Steelworkers (USW) activist who’s filled with admiration for the way the woman raised her family.

Ordinary working people like Mitchell’s friend continue to build America with humble heroism, even as the greedy rich try to cheat them not only at the checkout line but everywhere from the workplace to the halls of power.

“It’s a fight. It’s always a fight,” observed Mitchell, noting that Kellogg’s CEO Gary Pilnick underscored the arrogance of the 1 percent when he flippantly suggested a few weeks ago that struggling families eat cereal for dinner.

Pilnick, who pockets millions in salary and incentive compensation, runs a corporation largely responsible for the rampant price-gouging in the nation’s grocery stores.

Kellogg’s jacked up prices by more than 14 percent over the past couple of years while announcing plans to shower shareholders with stock buybacks and dividends.

Other food-makers joined in the exploitation, raising prices, reducing the amount of product in their packaging or switching to cheaper, lower-quality ingredients that enable them to pad their bottom lines on unwitting consumers’ backs.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania released a report in December assailing numerous companies for “shrinking products to super-size profits.” Among many other examples, Casey revealed that General Mills quietly shaved 1.2 ounces from boxes of Cocoa Puffs in 2021 while Conagra started skimping on ingredients in its Smart Balance spread in 2022, “resulting in a watery product that sparked consumer backlash.”

Even Cookie Monster resents the unscrupulous sleight of hand. “Me cookies are getting smaller,” the lovable Muppet groused this week in a hugely popular social media post shaming greedy food companies.

Mitchell said his friend, the single mom, worked so hard to provide nutritious meals that her kids never went without or even realized that she struggled.

Still, her sacrifices fuel his contempt today for millionaires and billionaires eager to fleece the working Americans who kept the nation functioning all through the pandemic.

“Let’s get a little bit more out of them,” said Mitchell, a retired member of USW Local 135L in Tonawanda, N.Y., summing up the mindset of the rich. “It’s a constant squeeze.”

Yet it isn’t enough for the wealthy to take ever-larger portions of Americans’ paychecks. They also plot alongside right-wing politicians to inflict more pain on workers with no income at all.

West Virginia’s corporate friendly, Republican-controlled Senate just passed a bill that would not only reduce unemployment benefits—supported by employer contributions—but impose the deepest cuts on those struggling the longest.

They’d rather force people into dead-end jobs than support them during the search for family-sustaining employment. That helps corporations exploit low-wage work forces while putting families on a course for poverty.

Fortunately, pro-worker lawmakers in Nevada stymied proposed cuts in their state’s unemployment compensation program this week after publicly embarrassing the bill’s Republican supporters for coddling the rich at the expense of working people.

“We fight over nickels and dimes and pennies in this place when it comes to poverty, and we give money away like it’s a free-for-all when it comes to the most wealthy,” declared Democratic Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who led opposition to the measure.

A coalition of workers and their allies last year defeated proposed unemployment benefit cuts in Arizona, where Republicans float the idea from time to time either because they either fail to recognize the potential impact or don’t care, said Vikki Marshall, president of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) chapter in Tucson.

“We want to make sure our children are eating,” she said, noting the cuts would have devastated single-income families. “We want to make sure they go to school with something in their stomachs and clothes on their backs.”

“This is the only avenue they have. Nobody knocks on the door saying, ‘I want to give you some money to tide you over,’” said Marshall, one of the union activists who oppose measures like these across the country.

Unions provide workers with a path forward.

Even as it exploited consumers, for example, Kellogg’s also attempted to deny its manufacturing workers a decent living. So in 2021, about 1,400 union members at four cereal plants staged a 77-day strike that forced the company to provide raises, pension increases and other enhancements.

“It was a tough strike. They didn’t want to give anything. They wanted to take, take and take,” Dave McLimans, a member of SOAR’s Pennsylvania executive board, said of Kellogg’s management.

Ultimately, “solidarity, sticking together,” won the day for the striking workers, added McLimans, who showed his support by joining the picket line at Kellogg’s Lancaster County plant.

Inspired by that victory, and other worker wins, more and more Americans seek to join unions to secure not only the higher wages and better benefits but the safer working conditions and voice on the job that collective action provides.

The surge in union drives makes sense to McLimans, who took part in the USW’s successful 105-day strike against Lukens Steel in 1991 and 1992.

McLimans credits the USW with paving the way for his middle-class life and secure retirement. And he knows that unions still serve as the only true bulwark for workers fighting corporate greed today.

“There comes a time when enough is enough,” he said. “It’s time we all come together and start kicking and screaming. We need to keep the pressure on.”

Posted In: From the USW International President