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    News and Updates

July 8, 2004

Community Mobilization Secures Health Care for ACME Workers

Health care for working families is not just a workplace concern – it’s a community concern. More than 3,000 workers at Acme Supermarkets in South Jersey faced the threat of cuts to health benefits when their contact expired at the end of April. The members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1360 reached out to local religious leaders, elected officials and union members for support that helped secure a new contract that protected health benefits for workers and their families.

Acme is owned by Albertsons, a national chain that forced tens of thousands of its Southern California workers into the streets for nearly five months to fight back against the employers’ draconian demands to eliminate health benefits for workers. Acme workers and supporters in South Jersey supported the California strike/lockout by mobilizing customers and raising public awareness of the struggle facing supermarket workers across the country.

When bargaining began in South Jersey, Acme faced a room full of religious leaders, labor supporters and other UFCW local unions along with representatives from UFCW Local 1360. The message was loud and clear: we stand united to protect health benefits for Acme workers.

“This contract proves that solidarity works. UFCW local unions working together with other unions and, most importantly, community and religious leaders made sure Acme and Albertsons understood that we will hold the line for health care,” said International Vice President and Regional Director Mark Lauritsen.

The new five-year agreement:

• Maintains health care for workers and retirees;

• Improves worker retirement benefits; and

• Increases wages, including higher starting rates for new employees

UFCW members are currently bargaining with Albertsons, Safeway and Kroger in the Pacific Northwest where the contract covering nearly 20,000 workers expires this month. In September, nearly 50,000 workers at the same three supermarket chains in Northern California will head to the bargaining table with similar resolve to hold the line for health care.

June 23, 2004

Wal-Mart’s “”Open Door”” Slams Shut for Women Workers

WAL-MART’S “”OPEN DOOR”” SLAMS SHUT FOR WOMEN WORKERSWal-Mart On Trial In The largest Sex Discrimination Lawsuit In History

“”…women working at Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men…and, that the higher one looks in [Wal-Mart] the lower the percentage of women.”” Judge Martin Jenkins in his decision granting class action status citing the “”largely uncontested descriptive statistics”” presented by the plaintiffs in the case.

The “”door”” in Wal-Mart’s much touted “”open door policy”” of personnel management does not open wide enough to let women into higher paid jobs or management positions, according to allegations contained in a suit brought against the nation’s largest private employer. Despite its denials and legal maneuvers, Wal- Mart will have to stand trial and face the charges of pervasive sex discrimination in the largest civil rights class action case in history.

Six women stood up to challenge pay and promotion practices at Wal-Mart stores across the country. Now a federal judge has certified the case—Dukes v. Wal- Mart Stores, Inc.(N.D. Cal. No C-01-2252)—as a nationwide class action sex discrimination lawsuit covering all women employees who worked a U.S. Wal-Mart store anytime since December 26, 1998. More than 1.6 million women will be represented in the lawsuit.

In issuing his decision, U. S. District Court Judge Martin Jenkins referred to the overwhelming evidence presented in the case showing a pattern of lower pay, fewer promotions and less opportunity for women at Wal-Mart in every region of the country. Expert reports relied upon in the judge’s decision exposed the reality behind Wal-Mart’s smiling face. Women who had worked longer for Wal-Mart, had higher job performance evaluations, and did the same jobs were paid less than the men they worked next to. The sexism prevalent in Wal-Mart’s management practices robbed women and their families of the pay they worked for. Wal-Mart devalued women’s work, and paid them less simply because Wal-Mart thought it could get away with it.

The 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has been actively organizing, mobilizing and empowering women to take action to create equity in all workplaces. In instances where there was evidence of sex discrimination, the UFCW regularly refers workers to attorneys experienced in civil rights litigation. From small groups of women workers talking with each other, with the UFCW, with public interest groups and civil rights lawyers grew the legal action that Judge Jenkins described as “”historic in nature, dwarfing other employment discrimination cases before it.””

Wal-Mart has aggressively sought to suppress workers in the exercise of their rights, and has been particularly focused on dissuading workers from connecting with each other or acting as a group. Workers are repeatedly told they do not need “”third party representation”” and that Wal-Mart has an open door policy that allows workers as individuals to resolve their problems with management. Wal-Mart’s failure to address issues of sex discrimination as reflected in the Dukes case, and the success of women acting together with a strong voice and effective representation to take their case forward, however, demonstrate that Wal-Mart’s management system is fatally flawed and cannot meet the needs of a 21st century workforce.

“”An organized voice for workers is the solution for the problems—from low pay to inadequate health care, from high turnover to discrimination—at Wal-Mart. The Dukes case is an inspiration for all other Wal-Mart workers that acting together they too can bring change to the workplace,”” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President.

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June 2, 2004

Inglewood Voters Say No to the Walmartization of America

Inglewood, California, Voters Reject Wal-Mart’s Effort for Expansion

Residents of Inglewood, California, stood up for American values – they said “”No,”” to the Walmartization of their community. They said “”No,”” to the Arkansas retail giant’s low wage, low benefit jobs. They said “”No,”” to a store the size of 17 football fields that would have decimated local businesses.

Voters rejected a referendum by Wal-Mart by voting 65% against a proposed Supercenter in Inglewood. Wal-Mart forced voters to the polls by refusing to accept rejection of their expansion plans by Inglewood City Council earlier this year. Wal-Mart abused the citizen referendum process by hiring people to collect signatures and force a ballot initiative – an effort that ignored zoning regulations and skirted traffic and environmental reviews. Wal-Mart was trying to buy the local political process but voters made it clear: you can’t discount democracy.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members held the line in Southern California for nearly 5 months fighting back demands by the supermarket employers that would have eliminated health benefits for workers. Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons used Wal-Mart’s low-road benefit package as an excuse to lower the standards for supermarket workers in California. Customers stood behind the strikers throughout the work-stoppage and now those same people sent Wal-Mart the message that they are willing to fight for good jobs with good benefits.

“”Wal-Mart’s arrogance blinded them to the fact that voters and consumers will not accept a giant retailer cramming low-wage, low benefit jobs in every community. Voters in Inglewood told Wal-Mart to respect their laws, their environmental standards and elected officials,”” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen.

“”Wal-Mart is undermining living standards across the country and tried to undermine the democratic process itself,”” Hansen continued.

UFCW members in Inglewood joined with a broad citizen’s coalition of local and statewide elected officials, community organizations, and religious leaders to mobilize voters against Wal-Mart’s back-door bully tactics.

June 2, 2004

UFCW Supports Nurse Staffing for Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2004

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) applauds nurses nationwide, today, on National Nurse Day, and every day, for their commitment and dedication to their patients and the nursing profession.

“The U.S. health care crisis is bringing mounting pressure on health care providers to do more and make do with less,” said UFCW International Vice President and Director of the union’s Health Care and Professional Division Greg Hamblet. “Decreasing staffing levels exponentially increases the burnout rate for nurses and puts quality patient care at risk. We need federal legislation, like Rep. Schakowsky’s, that sets mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing standards to protect patients.”

Schakowsky (D-IL) is introducing the Nurse Staffing for Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2004, today. The measure establishes minimum staffing levels for different hospital units. Once minimum levels are met, the Act will require hospitals to develop staffing plans, in consultation with staff, to meet patient needs in the hospital.

A recent poll conducted by the National Consumers League and the AFL-CIO found:

• Nearly half or 45 percent of those who have had direct hospital experience in the past two years believe that their safety or that of a family member was compromised by inadequate nurse staffing levels.

• More than a third report not receiving important elements of care in a timely fashion.

• More than 75 percent support legislative action to improve nurse-to-patient staffing standards.

Schakowsky’s bill creates a framework for providing patients with the consistent quality care they deserve by establishing minimum direct care registered nurse-to-staff ratios. “Too many hospitals are resistant to establishing and enforcing safe staffing levels,”” said Hamblet. “Federal legislation on this critical issue is long overdue. We’re losing too many good nurses and putting patients at risk because of inadequate staffing levels. The UFCW is working with numerous unions on the nurse campaign to support the Schakowsky legislation, and ensure that nurses have a strong voice in establishing working conditions that allow them to provide the quality care their patients require.”

April 28, 2004

Safe Jobs are a Dying Breed Under Bush Administration

Today, we mourn for workers who needlessly lost their lives on the job this year. We also mourn for the loss of workplace protections and safety regulations killed by the anti-worker Bush Administration.

This is an administration that goes out of its way to hurt workers. President Bush’s first major legislative action upon taking office was to sign legislation repealing OSHA’s ergonomics standard. This important worker safeguard, issued in November 2000, was ten years in the making and would have prevented hundreds of thousands of workplace injuries a year.

Today we also honor the workers who have been killed and injured on the job and their families. Last week, a UFCW member—a young worker from Guatemala—was killed working in a poultry plant. Thousands of workers, particularly immigrant workers, risk serious and sometimes fatal injury at work in workplaces such as poultry and meatpacking plants. No worker should be forced to risk their life to put food on the table for America’s families.

The UFCW is encouraged by actions such as those by Senator Edward Kennedy who is working to strengthen worker safety by introducing a bill this week that will expand protections for workers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Senator Kennedy’s bill includes a mandate that employers pay for safety gear they require workers to wear. The Bush Administration has so far refused to complete and issue this standard. It will also strengthen penalties against employers who kill or seriously injure workers by willfully violating OSHA standards.

The Bush Administration has joined with business supporters to roll back, block, or stall needed worker protections. This Worker’s Memorial Day, the UFCW reiterates its commitment to electing a President that will put worker need before corporate greed.

April 26, 2004

Kroger Risks Revenue Hemorrhage With Attack On Worker Health Benefits

Workers In Houston, Cincinnati, Louisville, Las Vegas, Northern California, Denver, Seattle And Detroit Mobilize For Fight To Save Health Care

Kroger stockholders were recently stunned when the company forked over more than a $100 million to the supermarket operator’s leading competitors as a payoff from the more than 4 month long Southern California grocery strike. Waging war on workers’ health benefits doesn’t come cheaply, and the nation’s largest supermarket chain had to pay the bill after it agreed to cover its competitor’s losses when it joined with Safeway and Albertsons to take on 70,000 Southern California members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) in a fight over affordable health care.

Kroger did not limit its revenue loss to California. It also sent workers into the streets and its customers off to its competitors when it forced a strike over health benefits in West Virginia last year. Now, Kroger is risking a revenue hemorrhage as its short-sighted, benefit-busting demands could send tens of thousands of the company’s workers into the streets from Houston to Seattle, and from Cincinnati to Denver. The majority of Kroger’s revenue stream could dry up if the company fails to reach agreements that maintain affordable health care.

“”Kroger has consistently underestimated workers’ resolve in the fight for affordable health care. For the company health care benefits are a matter of dollars and cents, for workers health care benefits are a matter of life and death,”” said UFCW International Collective Bargaining Director Pat O’Neill.

In a nationwide effort, the UFCW International is systematically laying the groundwork in preparation for the possibility of multi-city strikes. From picket signs to community outreach, coordinated programs are being planned to mobilize support for affordable health care, as well as to assist the workers forced to strike to keep their health care.

While the details vary from city to city, the thrust of the company’s attack is to effectively eliminate affordable health care in the future. Houston is currently the hot spot for a potential strike. Company demands there would impose costs that would push health care out of reach for many workers, and could leave substantial number of workers without any coverage at all.

“”Kroger needs to make a commitment to maintaining affordable benefits. The workers have made record profits for the company. Some of those profits now should be used to maintain the workers’ benefits. Attempts to eliminate affordable health care will only lead to the elimination of profits, customers and market share. Workers will negotiate in good faith to keep the stores open and the customers served, but workers will fight for health care,”” stated O’Neill.

April 26, 2004

Wal-Mart Workers Want A Voice

A majority of workers at a Wal-Mart store in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada, signed membership cards for a voice on the job with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and have applied to Saskatchewan Labor Relations Board for certification with UFCW Local 1400. It is the second UFCW certification request for workers at Saskatchewan Wal-Mart in the last two months.

“The UFCW offers an alternative for Wal-Mart workers that means better wages, working conditions, and a voice on the job,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “More Wal-Mart workers, than ever before, are standing up, and they’re standing up with the UFCW.”

The giant retailer has a long history of reprehensible employment practices. The company is facing charges by women employees for sex discrimination that would be the largest class-action suit in US history. Wal-Mart has been found guilty of cheating workers out of their pay. Pending actions by workers, in numerous states, are raising similar charges, claiming Wal-Mart fails to pay them for all the time they work.

The company has shifted more jobs to countries where sweatshops are prevalent than any other corporation. It has a record of disregarding community wishes, bringing its vast resources into play in an attempt to muscle its stores into neighborhoods where community members have expressly told the company it was not welcome.

In light of growing global resistance to company practices, Wal-Mart launched a recent massive program, not to improve its practices, but to wage a PR campaign to improve its image.

Wherever Wal-Mart operates, workers want and need a voice to force the company to live up to the conditions it says it practices in its PR campaigns.

“The number of workers seeking a voice at Wal-Mart will grow throughout North America,” said Hansen. “The UFCW is an international union with a North American strategy. That strategy is long-term, committed, and getting stronger every day.”

April 23, 2004

White House Dishes Up Pay Cuts For American Workers

George W. Bush’s new overtime rules pick up his pace for lowering living standards for American workers and putting more dollars into the bank accounts of his corporate campaign donors. The most anti-worker White House in the modern political era just gave workers their biggest pay cut in history. Millions of workers could potentially lose thousands of dollars each year as a result of the Bush Administrations actions.

Bush shoved the pay cut through over the objections of both Houses of Congress and millions of workers. The rewritten overtime rules open the door for employers to reclassify jobs so that workers who’ve always earned overtime would now become exempt. Lead workers in grocery store deli, dairy, produce, and meat departments could now be classified as managers and have their pay slashed under the new Department of Labor (DOL) regulations. Health care industry technicians and nurses, among millions of other workers, could also be reclassified out of overtime pay.

“American workers have received nothing but double dealing and disappointment from the Bush White House,” said United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) President Joe Hansen. “That’s precisely the case with the DOL’s 500 pages of “clarifying” regulations on overtime—the only thing they clarify is how completely special corporate interests dominate the Bush Administration.”

Under George W. Bush’s leadership, the US economy has lost more jobs than at any period since the Great Depression. Forty-four million people—the overwhelming majority of them from working families—have no health insurance. Health care costs are skyrocketing. Millions of jobs are being shipped overseas while the number of working poor in this country, struggling in low-wage, no-benefit jobs, is increasing.

“Obviously, George W. Bush surveyed the state of working America and concluded it was time for a pay cut,” Hansen added.

The UFCW is mobilizing a worker-to-worker movement to inform UFCW members about the President’s pay cut. Working people will hold the Bush Administration accountable this November for four years of hostile policies aimed at lowering working family living standards.

April 13, 2004

Working America Wants Answers

(Washington, DC) At tonight’s prime time press conference, President George Bush claims to be prepared to address the important issues facing Americans.  But working families won’t be in that room.  President Bush won’t be facing the tough questions that most Americans deserve to have answered, such as:

  • You are the first President since Herbert Hoover to preside over a period of job loss.    Among the few parts of our economy where jobs are growing, they are by and large, part-time, low-wage, no benefit service jobs — Wal-Mart jobs.  How do you plan to turn around the US economy and create jobs that can support families?
  • Your administration has been attempting to rewrite overtime regulations which could cause the largest pay cut in American history and cut overtime for 8 million workers.   Both the House and Senate are on record in opposition to this regulation.  Will you be going forward with this regulation before the November election?
  • 44 million Americans are uninsured, with that number growing every day.   More large companies are cutting benefits for workers.  Supermarket workers in Southern California were forced to strike for five months to protect their families’ health benefits – costing the companies billions of dollars in lost sales.  What are you planning to do to make sure health insurance is available and affordable for all Americans?
  • The minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 1996.   Do you favor raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7 an hour as proposed in the Senate?
  • Your Administration claimed hundreds of thousands of new jobs were created in March.   Tens of thousands of those jobs were striking supermarket workers returning to work.  How can you take credit for this as job growth when it was simply the end of a strike?

Working Americans deserve answers from their President.   It is time for the Bush Administration to offer up a real plan for economic recovery.

April 5, 2004

Kroger and UFCW Locals 455 and 408 Agree to Extend Contract

Kroger and UFCW Local 455 and 408 Agree to Extend Contract

After weeks of marathon bargaining sessions, UFCW Locals 455 and 408 and Kroger supermarkets have signed an extension to the current collective bargaining agreement that covers 11,000 workers in the Houston area. The two parties have been working with a federal mediator who recommended the extension in order to permit bargaining to continue.

Due to the complexity of the issues, particularly health care coverage, the extension will allow both parties to continue to make steady progress toward a solution.

The contract has been extended to April 24, 2004 and will continue day to day thereafter.

Both parties also agreed to a media blackout of issues being discussed at the table.