News and Updates
March 10, 2005
Joseph T. Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) was named to a 14-member Citizens’ Health Care Working Group. Hansen is the only representative from organized labor working with the esteemed group of health care providers, economists, health care advocates and other leaders.
The fourteen panelists, named by the Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker, were assembled from more than 500 applicants and are charged with the duty of holding a national dialogue on issues relating to health care services, delivery and cost.
“I am deeply honored to serve in this vital endeavor to address the growing health care crisis and I look forward to working with my fellow panelists,” said Hansen. “The nation’s health care tab is already the highest in the world, and I am committed to exploring solutions that will reduce costs while improving care for the greatest number of people.”
The working group was created by Congress and will hold hearings and community meetings across the country on health coverage and cost issues, and, ultimately, issue a “Health Report to the American People.”
As the leader of the 1.4 million-member UFCW, Hansen represents America’s neighborhood union. UFCW members put food on the table for America’s families, working in neighborhood supermarkets, as well as in meatpacking, food processing and other industries.
With more than 40 years of experience negotiating contracts covering wages, health care benefits, pensions and other workplace benefits, Hansen is acutely aware of the nation’s health care crisis. He understands how rising health care costs are forcing a downward pressure on workers’ living standards. He also knows first-hand how skyrocketing costs are encouraging some employers to scale back and eliminate employee health care plans in order to gain competitive advantages in their industries.
“The health care crisis is a national problem that requires a national solution,” said Hansen. “I have great confidence that our group can lay the foundation for bringing America together to confront this challenge.”
February 24, 2005
Wal-Mart used children for hazardous jobs in its U.S. stores according to a U.S. Labor Department investigation as reported in the New York Times on February 12, 2005. Wal-Mart is being sued for sexual harassment in Florida by the federal government as reported in the Bradenton Herald on February 18, 2005. Wal-Mart was cited in Alabama for having the most employees on taxpayer-funded Medicaid health program as reported in the Associated Press on February 22, 2005. Wal-Mart is the target of a Georgia legislative initiative on companies with large number of employees receiving taxpayer-funded health care after it was revealed the retail giant ranked number one for employees on the government health program as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on February 23, 2005.
In a ten-day period, Wal-Mart compiled a virtually unmatched public record of abusive, illegal and irresponsible conduct involving women, children and taxpayers. These most recent reports come on top of Wal-Mart already facing the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in history, court convictions for forcing employees to work without pay, and government complaints for the illegal firing and intimidation of workers for exercising workplace rights. In Canada, Wal-Mart is closing a store and taking away the livelihoods of almost 200 workers rather than comply with the law providing a fair and impartial process to reach a contract with workers.
So what does Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott do? He delivers a speech attacking the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
In his speech delivered in Los Angeles yesterday, Scott glibly ignored the company’s very public record of shameful conduct; blamed the UFCW and other critics (the “guppies” according an earlier Scott pronouncement) for his problems; and, created an alternative reality where low wages, unaffordable benefits, the massive export of U.S. jobs to overseas sweatshops, the suppression of worker rights and taxpayer subsidies for the giant retailer have somehow made the world a better place.
The Scott speech continues a public relations offensive launched several weeks ago to prop up the company’s sagging image, pump up stagnate stock prices, and sidestep holiday season reports that competitors from Sears to Best Buy offered lower prices. The speech contains the same willful distortions and Orwellian double-talk as the company’s ad campaign. Repeating a lie does not make it true.
Scott brags, as did the ads, about the number of full-time employees– except full time in Wal-Mart speak is about 30 hours a week, not 40 hours as in the rest of reality. Scott proudly proclaims that Wal-Mart’s average wages are about twice the minimum wage. He ignores that Wal-Mart uses its enormous political clout– the largest political giver in 2004– to keep the minimum wage in real terms at its lowest level in decades. Even at the supposed Wal-Mart average wage, a family with a Wal-Mart income is still left scraping the poverty line. Scott cites Wal-Mart health insurance as a positive, but fails to mention that 700,000 Wal-Mart associates do not have the company’s health insurance, and that those who do, pay more on average than employees of other major companies.
In instance after instance, Scott contorts the facts to serve his own purposes. He cites the lack of opposition to his company in communities across California, and declares opposition to Wal-Mart is limited to urbanized areas– except the overwhelming majority of Californians live in those urbanized areas. He talks about company tax payments, but doesn’t mention the tax costs the retailer imposes on states and communities with its low wages and lack of affordable health benefits.
Despite Scott’s protestations, Wal-Mart is not just a simple retailer. Wal-Mart is the largest single economic force in history. It is the largest private employer in the country, and the largest corporation in the world. Walton family members comprise five of the ten richest people in the world. About one percent of the wealth of just one of the Walton richest five would provide affordable health insurance for all Wal-Mart workers in the U.S. Wal-Mart is about high profits, not low prices.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has 1.4 million members working in neighborhood supermarkets, retail stores, meat packing and food processing plants. UFCW retail members work for major retailers such as Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons.
February 18, 2005
Washington DC—Denver-area UFCW members working at Kroger operated King Soopers supermarkets will be voting over the next few weeks on a settlement designed by a federal mediator.
The UFCW International Union intervened to discontinue voting last November on a company contract offer that would have jeopardized health care coverage not only for Denver-area UFCW members but also members across the country. After a subsequent negotiating session ended in no movement toward a settlement, the company requested that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service design a projected agreement based on bargaining documentation submitted by both the union and the company. When UFCW members serving on the bargaining committee representing King Soopers’ workers agreed to the process, the mediation service took up the task of putting a settlement together.
“The projected agreement ensures affordable health care for UFCW members and is in line with other agreements recently ratified in Seattle, Northern California, and Las Vegas,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “It’s definitely a major improvement over the company’s offer last year.”
The settlement option preserves affordable family health care. Under the projected agreement, UFCW members will have a $5 to $15 weekly premium co-pay, depending on the type of coverage. The company’s original offer would have destroyed the grocery workers’ health and welfare fund and eliminated any meaningful family coverage.
The agreement option also secures the workers’ pension fund, requiring increases in the company’s pension contributions, and provides real wage increases, as well as bonuses. There is no two-tier wage or health care benefit provision in the contract, although new workers will have to wait longer to achieve the full wage and benefit package.
“The last two years at the negotiating table have been extremely contentious, especially on the health care issue,” Hansen pointed out. “Denver negotiations haven’t been any different. I think the mediator’s crafted settlement allows UFCW members working at King Soopers to provide financial and health care security for their families.”
February 17, 2005
Food and Commercial Workers Union and Child Labor Coalition Present Proposal to Immediately Stop the Use of Children in Hazardous Jobs at Nation’s Largest Employer
Wal-Mart could stop illegal child labor in its stores through distinctive employee badges for underage workers that could readily identify them as being prohibited from hazardous assignments, according the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Child Labor Coalition. Combined with unannounced Labor Department inspections, the use of children for hazardous jobs would come to a rapid halt.
The two organizations are sponsoring, at www.ufcw.org, an e-mail campaign directed at Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking them to abandon a sweetheart deal on child labor announced earlier this week, and to take meaningful action to end the abuse of young workers.
Key to the union/coalition proposal is the re-badging of underage workers. Both managers and young workers would always be aware that certain assignments are illegal. Compliance would require unannounced inspections to make sure that badges are properly issued, and that no manager is pressuring minors into illegal assignments.
Scott and Chao are being presented with a demand to amend a settlement agreement that required the Labor Department to give Wal-Mart an unprecedented 15 days notice before any inspection. Advanced notice clearly undermines compliance, and allows managers simply to re-assign underage workers before an inspection.
Hundreds of children are maimed and crippled in accidents, some losing arms and legs, every year involving balers and compactors commonly used in Wal-Mart and other retail stores to handle the disposal of boxes and similar materials. The law has long prohibited minors from operating this kind of machinery. A Labor Department investigation brought allegations that Wal-Mart was using illegal child labor to operate the hazardous equipment in several states. To settle the case, Wal-Mart paid $135,000 and the Labor Department agreed to advance notice of inspections.
The UFCW and Child Labor Coalition’s actions today are supported by leading worker advocates in the U.S. Congress, including Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Their statements follow:
Statement of Representative George Miller (D-Calif.), Senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
I congratulate UFCW and the Child Labor Coalition for proposing a workable, inexpensive and effective way to end the illegal use of child labor, and I would hope that both Wal-Mart and the Department of Labor will respond positively.
Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Wal-Mart’s Sweetheart Deal with Department of Labor on Child Labor Violations
The Department of Labor has shamefully abdicated its responsibility by acquiescing in Wal-Mart’s continuing violation of child labor laws and other worker protections. Even worse, the Department conspired with Wal-Mart to conceal this sweetheart deal from the public. The Department is there to enforce the law, not be muzzled by America’s largest employer.
February 14, 2005
STATEMENT OF THE UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION
The nation’s largest employer, and one the nation’s largest corporate political donors, was cited for using children in dangerous jobs in its U.S. stores; and, then got a sweetheart deal that gives the company fifteen days advance notice before the government will initiate any investigation of future violations of federal workplace laws.
According to allegations contained in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wal-Mart was engaged in the unconscionable practice of using children to operate hazardous machinery in stores in New Hampshire, Arkansas and Connecticut. The machinery referenced in the case— balers, shredders and compactors— are standard equipment in retail stores, and are commonly associated with injuries involving the crushing or severing of arms and hands. Safety regulations on the books for decades have prohibited employers from using children to operate the machines. A company the size of Wal-Mart with a long history of operating retail stores should have been well aware of the law as well as the dangers to children in operating the restricted machinery.
While the corporate giant with billions of dollars in revenue agreed to pay a $135,000 fine, its representatives got a sweetheart deal that could insulate the company from getting caught in future violations. Wal-Mart gets fifteen days written notice of any government investigation or audit. Wal-Mart can work a child on a compacting machine or baler without fear of any unannounced enforcement action, and simply reassign the child worker during the time of the prearranged inspection. Further, the agreement allows the company ten days to correct the violation. A literal reading of the agreement would allow Wal-Mart to continue to put children at risk for over a week even if the government uncovered the violation.
Wal-Mart was the biggest political giver in the 2004 election, with the overwhelming majority of its money going to the party controlling the White House, Congress— and, the Department of Labor.
The UFCW is preparing a letter to the Secretary of Labor, and will seek Congressional review of the agreement.
February 11, 2005
Washington DC — The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) urges immediate action to correct dangerous line speeds in meatpacking and poultry plants where injury rates are three times that of other manufacturing sectors.
A report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), ordered by Senator Edward Kennedy, shows what workers in the industries have been subjected to for years:
- Dangerous line speeds
- An absence of injury and illness monitoring by OSHA
- Intimidation that leads to under-reporting of injuries
- Department of Agriculture inspectors without adequate training for recognizing hazardous conditions
“Blood, Sweat, and Fear,” a Human Rights Watch report, finds that the industries’ largely immigrant workforce “contend with conditions, vulnerabilities and abuses, which violate human rights,” including:
- Life-ending injuries
- Lack of compensation for injuries
- Discrimination against immigrant workers
- Illegal company actions to suppress workers’ rights to form unions
The reports call for immediate action by both employers and federal and state governments to rectify these conditions. “The GAO and Human Rights Watch reports have put the spotlight on these industries,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “These findings underscore the need for immediate concrete action to correct these long-standing problems to ensure the safety of workers who put dinner on the table for American families.”
February 11, 2005
(New Castle, Penn.) – Wal-Mart forced workers to wait four and a half years for an election in their Tire & Lube Express Department of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart’s high turnover rate pushed out the union supporters who began organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 880 in June, 2000, because they felt Wal-Mart ignored their complaints about safety hazards.
Then, two days ago, Wal-Mart announced plans to shutter its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, rather than face the decision of the Quebec Labor Ministry that would have initiated a process to establish a fair and impartial wage and benefit settlement between Wal-Mart and its workers. Today under the appearance of opportunity, the workers failed to gain a voice on the job — because Wal-Mart had already silenced their voice.
“Wal-Mart struck the final blow against these New Castle workers by showing them and the whole world to what lengths it will go to deny their employees a voice on the job. It’s not surprising that the Tire & Lube Express workers would turn away from union representation after Wal-Mart’s actions in Canada,” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President.
“Wal-Mart is the richest corporation in the world, yet cowers in fear of a unified workforce. It is reprehensible that this giant corporation would drag out a union election process for nearly five years, drive union supporters out and strike fear into the hearts of workers who simply asked for the opportunity to participate in a democratic process at work,” continued Hansen.
The UFCW has launched a campaign to mobilize workers and community members to send a strong message to hold Wal-Mart accountable for its anti-worker actions. To get involved with the UFCW campaign and to sign on to the electronic petition, visit www.ufcw.org
February 11, 2005
No one validates Wal-Mart criticism better than Wal-Mart itself. The retail giant announced plans to shutter its store in Jonquiere, Quebec rather than work with its employees and their certified representative, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
Joe Hansen, UFCW International President, announced a major grassroots mobilization targeting Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott that will reach out to workers and concerned community members to take action in support of Wal-Mart associates. The UFCW launched an electronic petition campaign to Wal-Mart calling on the retail giant to, abandon plans to close its Jonqueiere, Quebec, store, and to live up to the responsibilities that come with being the worlds largest corporation. Those responsibilities begin with respecting workers, consumers and communities.
Hansen said, “”Wal-Mart is choosing to destroy the livelihoods of nearly 200 working families rather than accept a compromise agreement with workers. It is clear from its actions in Jonquiere and in Jacksonville, Texas, that Wal-Mart will go to any length to avoid recognizing its workers organized voice on the job.””
Wal-Mart announced, yesterday, it was shutting down the store where workers had unionized six months earlier. Workers at the Jonquiere, Quebec store had been in negotiations with Wal-Mart the last several months, attempting to reach a fair agreement on wages and benefits. The company pulled the plug on the store when the workers appealed to the Quebec Labor Ministry to initiate a process that would establish a fair and impartial wage and benefit settlement.
Wal-Mart is no good for any community when it turns its back and runs away from its employees. The only way Wal-Mart will change its behavior toward workers and our communities is by people coming together and sending a unified message to the giant corporation. To get involved with the UFCW campaign and to sign on to the electronic petition, visit www.ufcw.org
December 15, 2004
On the Unveiling of a Public Display Marking the Body Count of U.S. Losses in Iraq in the Heart of Washington, D.C.
STATEMENT OF THE UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION— THE UFCW
OCTOBER 13, 2004
ON THE UNVEILING OF A PUBLIC DISPLAY MARKING THE BODY COUNT OF U.S. LOSSES IN IRAQ IN THE HEART OF WASHINGTON, D.C.
Today, the 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) unveils a massive display in the heart of the nation’s capital marking the daily body count of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq. These are the sons and daughters of working America who are making the sacrifice at the call of their government. The UFCW— a voice for working America— will never forget the sacrifice of our service men and women, their courage and commitment, and the grief of their families.
For the families of those who have fallen, we mourn your loss. For those who have been crippled and maimed in the service of their country, we honor your heroism and support you in your struggle.
We have placed a display here at the corner of K St. NW and 18th St. NW in Washington D.C. Every day we will update the count of American losses in Iraq so that corporate lobbyists and the foreign policy think tanks that dominate the canyons of K St. NW as well as the leaders around the corner at the White House and up the hill in Congress will always remember the impact of the policies that they advocate and the decisions that they make.
In Washington, the war in Iraq may be a matter of policy and politics. In working America, the war in Iraq is a matter of life and death, human sacrifice and suffering.
The UFCW will never forget. We want to make sure that those in power never forget either.
(Approximately 40 UFCW members have been killed in Iraq. Untold hundreds of immediate family members and relatives of UFCW members have been killed or wounded in Iraq.)
The UFCW represents 1.4 million workers at neighborhood grocery stores, department stores, food processing plants, nursing homes and hospitals, and chemical and other manufacturing facilities.
November 18, 2004
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is taking action today to prevent three supermarket giants from forcing employees to give up their health benefit plan. The loss of affordable health benefits could leave UFCW members and their families on the brink of economic crisis. UFCW International President Joe Hansen announced today that he has permanently blocked the company proposals presented on November 1, 2004, from Safeway, King Soopers and Albertsons. Hansen also issued an immediate call for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services to bring the parties back to negotiations and work toward the best possible contract for Colorado supermarket workers.
“We are in a new era of national bargaining with the three supermarket giants — Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons. Our actions today are focused on one clear goal: protecting health benefits and securing the best possible contract for supermarket workers. We are moving to put the collective bargaining process back on track to resolve this situation without sacrificing affordable health care,” said Hansen.
In a letter to UFCW Local 7 and the three supermarket companies, Hansen wrote: “I have now completed my review… and find that the proposals to end the jointly administered health and welfare plan…and the failure to cover additional stores…under the contract…could be injurious to our members.”
The companies’ proposal to move employees to a company-controlled health insurance plan would threaten affordable health care for tens of thousands of workers.
- Under the employer proposed company insurance, new hires would see drastic cuts in coverage and current hourly supermarket workers would face escalating premiums that would make quality family health coverage unaffordable.
- Historically, jointly-administered union and management health benefit trust funds have provided higher quality coverage for lower costs than if the employers purchased insurance on the open market.
- The employer demands would force workers to abandon any sense of security or voice over their health benefits and puts all control over cost and coverage into the hands of the supermarket companies.
- Employee pension coverage also risks serious cuts under the employers’ proposal.
“UFCW members have proven that we have the strength and determination to hold the line against employer attacks on health benefits and we will do so again if we must. But, it is my obligation to make sure we have exhausted every possible option at the bargaining table and elsewhere before asking UFCW members to sacrifice on the picket line in order to protect affordable health care,” continued Hansen.
Further, the supermarkets’ demands to deny union representation to workers at new or expanded stores could leave hundreds of new supermarket employees in our communities without job security, workplace protections or a voice on the job.
Through the federal mediation and conciliation process, the UFCW International Union has been able to reach settlements across the country including ending the four and a half month long strike in Southern California.
The 1.4 million-member 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.