When Dennis Hayles retired Aug. 23, leaving his position on the Local 655 Executive Board, he says he never dreamed he’ d spend 47 years making his career in the grocery business.
Hayles started as a bagger at National Foods store and joined Local 655 in 1966. Now, as he looks back, he says it was the best move he could have made, letting the path of fate take him through many levels of the business and the union.
“Local 655 has always been instrumental in providing me with a livable wage. I had a decent living for my family and was able to buy a home and raise three kids with the good union wages and strong benefits of Local 655,” Hayles said. “I have a good, strong pension plan, and that’s why I am able to retire and live well at this time.”
Hayles achieved his first promotion less than a year after starting. He was promoted to cashier, and as time passed, he went on to serve as manager in frozen foods, dairy and customer service. He was also promoted to become a loss preven- tion officer with National Foods.
When National Foods was bought out by Schnucks Markets in 1995, he moved to the Schnucks’ side of the industry, where his union involvement once again increased.
“I was always a mediator between job problems and management, so I decided to do it officially,” Hayles said. “When the union approached me (in 1996), I officially became a shop steward and got involved in a lot of political issues, including fighting right-to-work (for less) and politically pushing to get out the vote.”
As a member of the Executive Board, Hayles says he spent many, many Tuesdays in Jefferson City, lob- bying for union issues and hobnobbing with political friends and foes.
“I went with (organizer Union Representative) Levi Eddins, and we’d talk with legislators, not only those friendly with labor but those who we could possibly sway to support middle class working families,” Hayles said. “I was fortunate to be able to be involved in work- ing the campaign for President Obama in Philadelphia with Local 1776, where we helped get out the vote.”
Hayles says he always attended union meetings throughout those 47 years, and recommends other members do the same.
“I made a strong commitment to support my union and get involved,” Hayles said. “It was one of the best decisions I made.”
In 2007, Hayles’ involvement grew to the area of contract negotiations, and that following year he joined the union’s Executive Board.
“It’s been quite an experience. There’ve been tough times, good times, but overall my decisions were for the best,” Hayles said. “Trying to ease the strains with union and management. It’s been rewarding. Being a member of the Executive Board has been very informative and it’s been a great experience to elect our international officers at the annual conventions.”
Hayles has three children and two grandchildren. He is married to Charlotta and lives in Florissant. He is an active member and volunteer with Grace Bible Church in Florissant, where he works with the usher board.
“There’s always stuff to do, and with those two grandchildren, it pretty much keeps me on the road.”