Inflation is the predominant topic of economic conversation in America for the first time in about 30 years. Joe Biden, who was only about a decade into his political career at that time — virtually an embryo by congressional standards — is now President and seems to have learned very little in that time. It is somewhat ironic that a guy who ran as “the most pro-union president” ever has presided over an inflationary spiral that has nullified any wage gains workers have received over the past few years.
The fact that inflation is exclusively a creature of statist interventions — the free market has yet to figure out how to create it — is so infrequently noted as to constitute something of a lost chord in American public life. Only the role played by organized labor is less frequently commented upon, though it is just obvious.
Kim Cordova, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 7, represents thousands of grocery store employees at City Market, King Soopers and Safeway. You may remember her from earlier this year when she tried, unconscionably, to exploit the tragic shooting at Boulder King Soopers for political leverage. Well, that was evidently not an anomalistic lapse of reason, as she recently sent a letter detailing outlandish demands to the company in an attempt to weaponize the growing labor shortage.
The letter contained the usual litany of grievances, but among the datum which stuck out was her condemnation of the grocers for not hiring armed security at every store. It is remarkable that the same people who balk at having a police officer on hand as a resource to protect children in schools seem to want to make fortresses of grocery stores. Perhaps they can install TSA-style checkpoints at the door, so that picking up milk and eggs becomes as enjoyable and convenient as checking in at DIA.
In reality, retailers continuously evaluate their security protocols and tailor them to local requirements, in consultation with law enforcement and in adherence to industry best practices; few of which, I wager, call for the militarization of Safeway.
Cordova goes on to say how grocery store workers have risked their lives during COVID-19 to come to work, setting up the justification for greater demands and essentially doubling down on the exploitative rhetoric used in the aftermath of the Boulder shooting. Now, it’s one thing to recognize the role of essential workers, and honor them for going to work instead of simply collecting generous benefits at home; it is quite another to equate their jobs with defusing a bomb, chasing an armed suspect into a dark alley, or parachuting into a forest fire or a battlefield. As indeed it is to accuse these employers of deliberately risking their workers lives and putting “profits over workplace safety” when the reality, again, is that retailers all over the country went quickly through contortions to enact measures early in the pandemic to safeguard their frontline workers.
In fact, one may be entitled to wonder why, if Cordova and the other labor bosses were so concerned about the health of their members, the unions are not zealously pushing for vaccination among their membership to be as compulsory as union dues.
In her diatribe, Cordova begrudgingly acknowledges several of the wage concessions that have been already made by King Soopers, but quickly lets everyone in on Big Labor’s secret — that no concession, however meaningful, will ever be enough. Which is as good an explanation as any for why Cordova, just last month, rejected wage increases for thousands of grocery workers which would have earned some more than $1.50 more per hour heading into the holidays.
The most ironic part of Cordova’s letter is when she complains about “the cost of living in Colorado which has continued to skyrocket," without acknowledging the part she and her counterparts have played in that. If Cordova gets what she wants — if King Soopers capitulates to the union’s demands — the cost of the new contract would result in a spectacular increase in the price of goods sold in King Soopers; price increases which then become contagious throughout the economy.
These price increases might not impact someone like Cordova, who brings in a $205,000 salary each year — funded by her members’ compulsory union dues — but it will have serious impacts on the workers she claims to represent.
The solution is obvious, if taboo: the unions should not have the unmitigated ability to exact that sort of deleterious influence over consumer prices; employers, like grocery stores who provide their workers opportunities for advancement toward a six-figure salary, ought to be honored rather than chastised; and workers should be liberated from the shackles of compulsory union membership. But one does not speak of such things, not in an election year. Unless, of course, one wishes to help arrest the inflationary spiral.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.