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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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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