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    News and Updates

April 2, 2004

Kroger Workers Ready to Hold the Line for Health Care

Background Briefing:

The Facts and Faces Behind the Potential Strike at Kroger
Saturday, April 3, 2004
5:00 p.m.
UFCW Local 455
121 Northpoint Dr., Houston United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)

Locals 455 and 408 will provide a background briefing on the issues and individuals that are involved in contract negotiations with Kroger supermarkets in the Houston area. A research analyst will be available with data to show Kroger’s rising market share and healthy financial picture.

The workers and their families will also discuss the issues and the impact that the contract dispute will have on their lives. Health care is a top concern to workers and they are ready to hold the line against draconian company demands for cuts to health benefits.

The company’s latest proposal does not, in fact, offer improvements to workers’ health plan but would take away health coverage for 40% of the workforce. Experts will share more details about the health care plan and the impact on workers. The UFCW and Kroger continue to negotiate.

The contract covering 11,000 Kroger employees expires Saturday at midnight. Workers will be voting on the company’s proposal at two meetings at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

March 4, 2004

Hansen Takes Charge at 1.4 Million Member Food and Commercial Workers Union

Milwaukee Meatcutter Brings History Of Commitment to Diversity, Activism, Organizing And Global Solidarity To Union’s Top Leadership Position

Doug Dority Retires After Four Decades Of Union Building

 Joe Hansen, on far left, at a rally for the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride …more

A Milwaukee meatcutter took charge today as International President of the 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). Joe Hansen, member of UFCW Local 653— rank-and-file activist, volunteer organizer, union representative, regional director, the head of the union’s packinghouse division, and the UFCW’s International Secretary -Treasurer since 1997— was the unanimous choice of the union’s International Executive Board to fill the unexpired term of retiring International President Doug Dority.

Hansen, as a young worker learning a skilled trade, proudly became a member of Local 73 of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America in 1962 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His skills went beyond cutting meat. He had the ability to connect with non-union workers, win their trust and help them to organize. Hansen volunteered to spread the union message and quickly became a key part of the union’s organizing program. He was an outspoken rank-and-file activist who won election to local union office, and in 1973 became an international staff representative.

After the 1979 merger of the Meat Cutters and the Retail Clerks that created the UFCW, Hansen rose rapidly in the new union serving as an organizer, an executive assistant to a Regional Director, and then as Director of the North Central region. He won election as an International Vice President in 1986. In 1990, Hansen was assigned as Pacific Region 14 Director and then as Director of the UFCW’s Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division.

Joe Hansen has always made the connection between aggressive organizing and improving the lives of union members. The more organized workers in a community or industry, the greater their clout at the bargaining table. From his own experience, Hansen focuses on motivating and activating union members to organize other workers. “”We have more than a million potential organizers with our membership. Our challenge is to inspire, empower and lead our members in organizing the millions of non-union workers. Organizing activism is first on our agenda for the future,”” said Hansen.

Joe Hansen was one of the labor movement’s first leaders to recognize the importance of organizing and representing the new wave of immigrants that was filling the packinghouses and food processing plants of the Midwest and South. Hansen saw that the future of his union would be men and women of many colors, speaking a multitude of languages, and coming from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. “”Solidarity among all workers— regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or immigration status— is the foundation of our movement, and our strength to meet the challenges of the future,”” according to Hansen. He is a leader within the AFL-CIO for addressing the needs of immigrant workers, and serves on the Federation’s Immigration Committee.

Hansen’s vision of the future sees global solidarity as the counter to corporate globalization. He was elected to serve as President of Union Network International (UNI) at its first World Congress in Berlin in 2001. UNI is an international labor organization representing 15 million workers in 900 unions in more than 100 countries across the globe. “”As corporations spread their reach around the world, we must extend our hands in solidarity to workers in all lands. Organized workers are the most powerful force in the world. Solidarity works worldwide,”” Hansen has pointed out in speeches in the U.S. and abroad.

Hansen has played a key role in support of local union collective bargaining. He has advised local unions, challenged employers, rallied supporters and walked picket lines. He has seen over the past decade that rising health benefit costs are the number one cause of strikes. Hansen has reached a firm conclusion on the single most important legislative and political issue: “”We must have comprehensive national health care reform. No worker should be forced onto the picket line to save health care for their families. November 2004 is the time to elect a President and Congress that will protect health care benefits for working families.””

Hansen, as well the other members of the UFCW International Executive Board, thanked Doug Dority for his service and commitment to the UFCW. Hansen said on behalf of the entire Board, “”Doug Dority is a union builder and an organizer. He is part of the soul of this union. He taught a generation of leaders and representatives that our commitment is always first and foremost to the members. We are stronger, more effective and better prepared for the future because of Doug Dority. He will forever be our brother.””

After more than 40 years of union service that began when he organized the grocery store where he worked in Lynchburg, Virginia, Dority, UFCW International President since 1994, decided to retire from his union office. He will continue, however, to work with labor and other progressive organizations on efforts to win national health care reform. Dority had planned to announce his retirement in January, but delayed retiring until the Southern California strike had been successfully resolved.

Michael E. Leonard, International Executive Vice President and International Director of Strategic Programs, also announced his retirement effective March 2, 2004.

The UFCW International Executive Board elected Anthony M. Perrone as International Secretary-Treasurer, William T. McDonough as International Executive Vice President, and Michael J. Fraser as International Executive Vice President. Perrone currently serves as International Executive Vice President and International Director of Organizing. McDonough currently serves as International Vice President and Region 8 Director. Fraser currently serves as International Vice President and Canadian National Director. Sarah Palmer Amos continues to serve as International Executive Vice President and International Director of Collective Bargaining and completes the five-person International Executive Committee.

(Under the UFCW International Constitution, the International Executive Board is charged with electing a replacement for a vacancy in the office of International President. The UFCW Executive Board consists of 52 International Vice Presidents, primarily local union leaders. Hansen’s term will run through 2008.)

February 27, 2004

Statement of UFCW Int’l President Doug Dority On the Southern California Strike

Today, I am pleased to join with the officers of the seven Southern California UFCW local unions in their announcement of a tentative agreement in the longest major strike in the history of the UFCW, the largest and longest strike in the history of the supermarket industry, and the first major strike of the 21st century.

It is also one of the most successful strikes in history.

After five months, the picket lines remain strong, our members remain united, and customers continue to honor the workers’ picket lines costing the supermarket conglomerates billions of dollars in revenue.

Every day, support for the fight for affordable health care grows stronger. Community and religious leaders have put their bodies on the line in acts of civil disobedience. There have been scores of arrests from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay area to Baltimore, Maryland. There are daily rallies, demonstrations, picket lines and handbilling from Seattle and Portland to Washington, DC. The Southern California supermarket strike has become a national cause.

The men and women on the picket lines are genuine heroes. Their sacrifice for affordable family health care has motivated and activated workers across the nation. I am honored to be part of their union, and I am humbled as well as inspired by their dedication, strength and selflessness.

These members will never be forgotten. They will always be honored and respected. We owe them a debt of gratitude. They have sent a message to employers everywhere that attempts to eliminate health care benefits will come at a high price. Workers will not sit idle as their families are denied health care protection. Workers will stand united and fight for health care.

In Southern California, workers were given no choice but to fight. UFCW members have never faced, nor has nay UFCW-represented employer ever made a more extreme or drastic demand—a demand that would have effectively eliminated affordable health care benefits, as did the supermarket employers in Southern California. The UFCW, its local unions and its members rose to the challenge. The employers never believed that workers could sustain a five-month strike. The employers completely underestimated the determination and fortitude of their employees.

Through their struggle, the striking and locked out workers have performed a service for the whole country. They have sounded the alarm for all of America—your health care benefits at work are at risk. If the supermarket giants—profitable, growing Fortune 50 mega-corporations—can launch an attack on health care benefits, then every employer is sure to follow. They have sounded the alarm that the American health care system is ready to collapse.

In one year, over 2 million lost health insurance. That’s over 6,000 workers a day.

The fight here has given us a national call to action.

We must have national health care reform. No one company, no one union, no industry or group of workers alone can fix the health care system. We can patch it up. We can protect our members for another contract term, but the system continues to falter, exacting an increasing cost on both workers and employers and leaving more and more families without health care.

Now is the time for action. 2004 is the year to put health care reform on the political agenda and demand that every candidate for office commits to comprehensive, affordable health insurance for every working family.

No worker should ever again be forced to choose between a paycheck and health care benefits. No worker should ever again be forced into the streets for five months to protect health care for their families.

The UFCW will lead the fight for health care reform. And, I believe, with members like our Southern California members—the UFCW will win that fight.

February 26, 2004


Senator John Kerry will be on the picket line with UFCW members today at 1:00 p.m. at the Vons store at 710 Broadway (Lincoln & Broadway) in Santa Monica, California to highlight his commitment to national health care reform.

Access to affordable family health benefits is the issue that forced 70,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) on strike against Safeway/Vons, Ralphs/Kroger and Albertsons for more than 5 months. The Southern California supermarket strike has sounded the alarm to America that our health care system is in crisis and that all workers are at risk of losing benefits.

Striking Vons worker Cathi Shafer said, “”I’m proud to have John Kerry join our picket line today because he is committed to the principle that health care is a right—that if you work hard, you’ve earned the right to health care. This fight is about our future. We are not going to give up on our future. And John Kerry is not going to give up on the future for working families.””

Melissa Larson has been walking the picket line with her husband said, “”John Kerry put his life on the line for his country. He wasn’t afraid to fight for America. He will fight for affordable health care for America’s working families.”” John Kerry will call the striking workers American heroes for their courage and commitment to hold the line for America’s health care.

Senator Kerry was endorsed by the UFCW and the AFL-CIO last week for his commitment to worker issues like health care. UFCW members have made tremendous personal sacrifices during the 19-week battle, relying on food banks to feed their families, applying to hardship funds to keep a roof over their heads and supporting one another to keep picket lines strong. Supporters from across the country have poured millions of dollars in donations to the striking supermarket workers and mobilized thousands of supporters to actions at Safeway and Albertsons stores across the country.

February 3, 2004

Renewed Support Re-Energizes SoCal Supermarket Strike

From Portland to Philadelphia, Seattle to Washington DC and Baltimore, community members and religious leaders are rallying at Safeway stores, demanding the company end its efforts to effectively eliminate health benefits for grocery workers. Concerned community members are asking customers to help hold the line and not shop Safeway. Workers, backed by their communities, have vowed to take the fight to save health care everywhere Safeway operates.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has also launched a radio campaign in these areas. The spots, featuring two Southern California workers on strike, also ask customers to shop elsewhere, and to join the fight to save affordable health care by picketing their local Safeway store. Text of the radio spots is below.
Over 15,000 March on Northern and Southern California Safeway Stores
After nearly four months on the picket line, workers continue to stay strong in the fight to save health benefits at work. In Los Angeles, union members, grocery workers, community leaders, and clergy members gathered at the Great Western Forum and marched on a nearby Vons store. In a demonstration of solidarity, several other unions pledged generous donations to help the striking and locked-out workers in their time of need. The California Teachers Association donated $500,000 for a statewide radio campaign asking customers not to shop at the struck and locked-out chains, while the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) pledged to raise $1 million to cover the cost of health benefits for the workers who lost their health care on January 1.
At the same time, a demonstration at an Oakland Safeway drew hundreds of supporters. Several participated in a symbolic sit-in, including Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente. De La Fuente and 14 other community, religious, and labor leaders were arrested for refusing to disperse and blocking the entrance.
Community members are backing grocery workers in an unprecedented showing of support. Workers in every industry know that, if Safeway (Vons), Kroger (Ralphs), and Albertsons can succeed in effectively eliminating health benefits for their workers, then all workers’ health benefits nationwide stand to disappear.
Safeway CEO Under Pressure
Steve Burd May Be Forced to Resign
Safeway CEO Steve Burd, the mastermind behind the effort to effectively eliminate health care for working families, is feeling the heat from investors. Safeway’s business has continued to slump because of his poor management decisions, including his adamant attempts to end affordable health care. Burd’s mismanagement has led to a combined loss of over a billion dollars at Southern California Vons, Albertsons, and Kroger stores. Industry analysts are concerned that Burd’s tactics have permanently damaged the Safeway brand name, and alienated the very same workers who have made the company profitable.
The “”Grocery Workers Justice Pilgrimage”” brought nearly 300 religious leaders and workers to Burd’s home in the affluent Bay Area suburb of Alamo last week. Participants prayed outside of Burd’s gated community, asking the CEO to stop turning a blind eye to the suffering he is causing. They also brought over 10,000 messages from Southern California workers asking Burd to help save affordable family health care, instead of eliminating it.
California Attorney General Sues Grocery Chains
Mutual Aid Pact Allegedly Violates Anti-Trust Laws
California Attorney General Bill Lockyear announced Saturday a lawsuit against Safeway (Vons), Kroger (Ralphs) and Albertsons. The three chains entered into a profit-sharing pact at the start of the strike. The attorney general’s office has stated it believes the pact is in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The agreement, which has not been released to the public, is believed the have hurt customers by discouraging competitive pricing among the chains. The attorney Lockyear addressed thousands of supporters about the lawsuit at the Los Angeles rally this weekend.
Hi, I’m Maria Patris. As a breast cancer survivor, health care is a matter of life and death. Now, I and 70,000 other supermarket workers have been forced to strike because Safeway wants to take away health benefits. I’m not giving up—health care is worth fighting for. If Safeway can take away my health benefits, then Safeway could take away health benefits from families in your area.
Join us at your local Safeway store and help hold the line for affordable health care.
A message from the working men and women of the UFCW.
Hi, I’m Gary Gallucci. My dream is to give my kids a better future. Now, Safeway is threatening my dream. I and 70,000 other Southern California supermarket workers have been forced to strike to save our health benefits. I’m not giving up—family health care is worth fighting for. If Safeway can take away our health benefits, Safeway could take away health benefits from families in your area.
A message from the working men and women of the UFCW.
January 29, 2004

New York Actors Stage Reading of New Play at Actor’s Gang Theater to Benefit 70,000 Striking Grocery Workers

The Three Same Guys, by playwright Joe Roland, a staged reading, one night only at The Actor’s Gang in Los Angeles, CA, on February 3, 2004, 7pm and 10pm.  Seats $50.

In the new play by playwright/actor Joe Roland the strike is fictional, the factory and the union town are fictional, the characters are fictional but the human spirit revealed in a battle for a living wage not to mention a decent life is as real and as devastating as the one being fought by the 70,000 workers on picket lines across Southern California.

According to acclaimed Director Mike Nichols (Angels in America), “”There hasn’t been a play like it since Waiting for Lefty and this one is about right this minute in America””.

The Three Same Guys will enjoy a full production at Trinity Rep in Providence, RI, in fall 2004 with Mr. Roland playing the central character, Dev.  This winter, however, Mr. Roland along with three like-minded New York actors will hit the stage scripts in hand to raise awareness as well as cash for the supermarket workers.

“Three giant corporations (Safeway, Kroger and Albertson’s) are attempting to eliminate health care benefits at work, effectively destroying affordable health care, for these workers. Says Roland, “”There is a war being waged on the working class in America. They are slowly disappearing into the ranks of the working poor….Personally I think that corporate America is taking the short view. A nation of poor, overworked, underinsured service workers can’t be good for business.

“”[But] this benefit isn’t really about the money. It’s about morale and attention. Those mothers and fathers and sons and daughters are fighting for their jobs, and for the jobs of millions of Americans, because although the American public may not be watching, you can bet your ass that American business is. I want those people on strike to know that I am paying attention, that many of us are paying attention and that we appreciate it….””

Followers of New York’s off-Broadway circuit know Roland as a founding actor of Water Theater Company, where the charter touts “”the political and social change that enlightening, artful theatre brings…We dedicate ourselves to exploring and sharing the explosive, transforming power of that human endeavor–the creative process–with all its revelations.”” Water Theater Company is proud to be presenting this special evening of theater.

For reservations call 323-782-6277, cash and checks will be accepted at the door. Admission is $50.00, please make all checks payable to “UFCW Strike Hardship Fund”.  The Actor’s Ggang is located at 6209 Santa Monica Blvd. Shows at 7 and 10 pm.

For more information on the reading, call the reservation line and leave a number where you can be reached.

January 21, 2004

Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice

Los Angeles—Affordable family health care coverage is a moral issue. It is a dominant civil rights issue of the 21st century.

Members of the faith and labor communities hold the line for affordable health care at Safeway’s LA office.

We are dismayed that three Fortune 50 companies—Safeway/Vons, Kroger/Ralphs, and Albertsons—led by Safeway CEO Steve Burd have forced 70,000 Southern California supermarket workers into the streets in an attempt to effectively eliminate their health care benefits.

Safeway and the other supermarkets have knowingly misled the public about the impact of their demands that would “end affordable health care” for new employees” [and] “drastically curtail covered benefits or increase employee-paid premiums to unaffordable levels” for current employees, according to health care benefits experts E. Richard Brown, PhD., and Richard Kronick, PhD.

The supermarket workers are engaged in a righteous struggle, fighting to save health care benefits, not just for their families, but all working families. After more than 100 days on the picket line, they have sacrificed everything for this cause.

Safeway/Vons and the other grocers are some of the largest and most profitable supermarkets in the world. Yet they would push dedicated, productive employees from work to welfare for their medical protection.

The supermarket workers are our friends, neighbors, and congregants. Our children ride the school bus with their children. We cannot stand idly by and witness the devastation of their families. We cannot allow the devastation of our communities that comes with the loss of family health care coverage.

We will take the cause of the supermarket workers directly to the Safeway boardroom and executive offices—wherever they may be—seeking the economic justice the workers deserve.

We urge Safeway and the other markets to deal fairly and honestly with their employees. We pray they return to the bargaining table to negotiate a just settlement.

— 30 —

For more information, contact Reverend William Jarvis Johnson, senior clergy organizer, 213-268-4821 www.cluela.org

January 12, 2004

Wal-Mart’s War on Workers: Frontline Report from Las Vegas

Las Vegas — The nation’s largest retailer continues to violate its worker’s rights. Wal-Mart faces new complaints and will have to defend itself before an NLRB judge for its illegal intimidation, harassment, and retaliation against workers organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

For three years, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club workers in Las Vegas have been working to organize for a voice on the job and better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Continually breaking the law to silence them, Wal-Mart’s “”Peoples Division”” has systematically suppressed workers’ legal right to exercise a democratic free choice for union representation.

Larry Allen, a former Wal-Mart Supercenter produce clerk at their Eastern & Serene office in Henderson, Nevada, was fired after giving testimony to the NLRB and spending two of his vacation days to speak alongside Democratic presidential candidates in a forum on health care at the UFCW Convention in San Francisco in August 2003. His dismissal followed a well-documented track record of intimidation and coercion at the Eastern & Serene Supercenter.

The National Labor Relations Board has ordered a hearing to begin February 10, 2004. The case charges that Wal-Mart managers:

Ø Prohibited employees from talking about the union and distributing information in break rooms and on store property;

Ø Made employees feel that they were under surveillance for union activities;

Ø Asked employees to spy on co-workers on behalf of the company;

Ø Refused to allow union representatives on the property;

Ø Confiscated union literature from employees and threatened workers with reprisals for accepting literature;

Ø Asked the police to remove union organizers from the property;

Ø And illegally fired Larry Allen for his pro-union support.

Wal-Mart’s attempt to use Mr. Allen as an example to intimidate other employees underscores the company’s discriminatory policies. The NLRB complaint states that Wal-Mart has been “”interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees”” in the exercise of their rights.

Larry Allen was fired fighting for his rights. He is one of a growing number of Wal-Mart workers bravely raising their voices for the rights of all workers.

The 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) is America’s neighborhood union representing workers in neighborhood grocery stores across the country. UFCW puts dinner on the table for America’s families with members working in meatpacking and food processing. UFCW gives a voice to care with representation for nurses, medical technicians and nursing home workers.

January 8, 2004

Bush Advising Employers How to Cheat Low Wage Workers Out of Earned Pay

Working families are under attack by the Bush Administration yet again. Throughout his term, George W. Bush has consistently attacked workers by allowing federal contracts to go to companies that broke labor laws, easing enforcement of workplace laws, and proposing changes in overtime rules to drop 8 million workers from overtime eligibility – his latest attack on working America.  And for those left, Bush is telling employers how to cut overtime even further.
For almost a year, Bush claimed his overtime proposals would result in 1.3 million new workers eligible to receive overtime pay.  But with the date fast approaching when the new rules are expected to be issued, the Administration is undermining its own proposal by advising employers how to avoid it.
Buried in the proposed new regulations are suggestions for how companies can avoid overtime by “”payroll adjustments”” such as cutting base worker salaries so the additional overtime payments would bring their total pay to their old salaries, or raising salaries just to the $22,100 threshold so the workers are not overtime-eligible.
Doug Dority, UFCW International President, accused Bush of using the overtime proposals to “”feed the greed of corporate America”” and said the proposal would result in the “”largest, single pay cut for workers in history.””  Bush used the 1.3 million low-income workers as justification for forcing pay cuts on over 8 million workers whose jobs will be reclassified, making them ineligible for overtime.
The Department of Labor advice means employers are cutting pay or cutting hours.
Over 50,000 UFCW members working in retail, food processing, health care and manufacturing will suddenly be exempt from overtime if the final rule is passed in March.  In a statement before a hearing on the proposed rule changes on overtime pay eligibility, Dority said, “”While these are skilled and valuable workers, they do not have the income level or the personal control of their work to equate them for overtime pay eligibility with a supermarket executive or a medical doctor.””
By advocating pay cuts and reclassifying workers the Bush administration cheats low- wage workers out of earned pay.  “”All of them would be surprised to find that they are now ‘executives’ or ‘professionals,’ and all of them would be outraged to find out that their newly ordained status comes with a pay cut,”” said Dority.
December 19, 2003

Food Workers Union Offers Good Faith Gesture to Start Negotiations

Supermarket Employers Challenged to Match Good Faith Move with End of Lockout

In a dramatic gesture to reopen negotiations, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) announced today that its local unions would remove picket lines from distribution/warehouse facilities at Ralphs, Albertsons and Safeway/Vons.   The move coincides with the renewal of negotiations on Friday, December 19, 2003.

The lines at the distribution/warehouse facilities will be removed on Monday, December 22, 2003.

UFCW leaders from the seven local unions involved in the dispute offered their thanks and appreciation to the 8,000 Teamster members for their personal sacrifice in the fight for affordable health care.

UFCW International President Doug Dority also added his appreciation; “We have never seen such solidarity amongst workers in the supermarket industry as has been displayed by members of the Teamsters union.   On behalf of all UFCW members, we extend our thanks and best wishes for the holidays,” said Dority.

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said that “”The Teamsters will continue to honor picket lines at the retail outlets because our members know that the UFCW’s fight is our fight.””

The UFCW immediately challenged the employers to match the good faith move with an end to the lockout of workers at Ralphs and Albertsons.

The Southern California supermarket strike/lockout began on October 11, 2003 in response to employer demands for the elimination of health benefits.    Workers struck Safeway/Vons; Ralphs and Albertsons immediately locked out workers in support of Safeway.

On November 24, 2003, the UFCW extended picket lines to the distribution/warehouse facilities of these employers and asked Teamsters to honor those picket lines.   The Teamster lines effectively shut down the supply system that had been keeping the near-abandoned stores stocked.  The stores were empty of both product and customers.

On Tuesday at a national solidarity summit, UFCW representatives from across North America pledged their support to both fund the strike and increase the level of activity targeting Safeway operations across the U.S. and Canada.

The union’s move in taking down picket lines indicates the UFCW’s commitment to the bargaining process while preparing for a long battle ahead should the employers refuse to reach a fair and equitable agreement.  UFCW local unions are presenting a comprehensive proposal as the renewed negotiations begin.  (Reminder, a news blackout continues at the request of the Federal Mediator.  No comments will be made concerning the specifics of the bargaining process.)