News and Updates
October 23, 2003
Sarah Palmer Amos
International Executive Vice President and Director of Collective Bargaining for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
October 22, 2003
From Southern California to West Virginia and Missouri in between, almost 90,000 supermarket workers are fighting to save affordable health care for themselves, their communities and future generations of workers.
This outbreak of strikes in different parts of the country is not a coincidence. It is part of a planned and coordinated effort on the part of major retail food chains to effectively eliminate worker health care benefits in the supermarket industry.
The employers have tried to cover their real agenda with a coldly calculated misinformation campaign about the true nature of their demands on health care. The supermarket giants are afraid to tell the truth because they know the public would be revolted by the unrestrained greed and the total disregard for human need contained in their demands.
In all my years of bargaining contracts, I have never seen a more flagrant employer campaign of lies than I have witnessed here. We are talking about people’s lives. We’re talking about their ability to provide health care for their children. We’re talking about their ability to obtain medical care in life and death situations.
The employers, Albertsons, Ralphs, and Vons, are pounding away with the big lie. Over and over again they say “”it’s only about a modest co-pay.”” How dare they lie when they know the facts, they understand exactly what their proposal would do.
70,000 jobs in Southern California that now come with comprehensive affordable health care would be transformed into low wage jobs, without meaningful health care benefits. And the next generation of supermarket workers and every generation thereafter would be without health care protection.
The employers would abandon their commitment to the workers who have given them a lifetime of service. Retirees would face increasing costs and reduced benefits. The employers, led by Safeway CEO Steve Burd, have made their intentions clear: cut cost regardless of the human cost; squeeze another penny in profit, and the public be damned. As Burd said, “”this is an investment in our future.””
People are not part of the equation in Burd’s view of the future. But people are the source of Safeway’s profits.
Safeway is built on superior service from workers and loyalty from customers. Steve Burd now threatens both.
The fact is: customers come to Vons and other Safeway outlets because the workers establish a relationship with customers. They are friends and neighbors. Supermarket workers are part of the fabric of the community.
How can you keep the profits that come from superior service when you attack the very workers that provide the service?
Steve Burd is like a fading movie star, desperately trying to regain his former glory. From being the darling of Wall Street, he is now a box office bust. And now he expects Southern California workers to pay for his miscues in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
Supermarket workers in Southern California average about $12 to $14 an hour and most do not get 40 hours a week.
Under the employers’ proposal, after three years, an average worker would earn about $12.30 an hour, that’s $369 a week before taxes are taken out or about $19,173 a year.
That’s a salary that can keep a single mom and her children out of poverty but, cut her health care benefits or shift several thousand dollars worth of health care costs from the company onto her and, look what happens.
A self-supporting working family can be reduced to near poverty. A self-supporting working family can be reduced to welfare.
Who should bear the burden of rising health care cost—a $19,000 a year working mom or Southern California taxpayers who will pay when more workers become eligible for Medi-Cal? Or, should Safeway be responsible for its workers?
Operating profits for the employers have increased ten times faster than health care costs. A little of that profit should be used to pay the cost of health care.
The UFCW remains ready to talk about cost containment. We will cooperate in any program or plan that stretches the health care dollar or makes the benefits more efficient but we will not agree to the elimination of health benefits in the supermarket industry!
The workers on the picket line are heroes. They are fighting not only for themselves but for future generations of workers. They have earned the support and the respect of their communities. I am proud to be part of the their Union.
October 16, 2003
- Human Need Vs. Corporate Greed–Facts and Figures (pdf)
- UFCW Members Vote to Authorize a Strike
- Consumer Handbill
Over the past several days, Southern California supermarket workers have been voting on a contract offer from three of the largest supermarket operators in the country.
They have been confronted with a stark choice: give up health care benefits for not only themselves and their families, but also, for future generations of supermarket workers.
In unprecedented numbers, Southern California supermarket workers turned out to vote and sent a clear message: we will fight for affordable health care.
They delivered a mandate to their union that they will strike, if needed, to save health care for their families and strike to save health care coverage for the next generation of workers.
These workers are heroes. They are willing to make the sacrifice to take up the fight to save health care.
This is a fight for all Southern California workers. It is a fight for all supermarket workers—union and non-union—here and across the country because if these three supersize, super-profitable, supermarket chains can cut benefits here, then every worker is at risk.
The UFCW is announcing that on October 11, workers will strike one of the supermarket chains. We will limit our job action to a single chain, so we will limit the inconvenience to our customers.
We are asking the employers to also respect our customers and not to take retaliatory action against workers through a lock out. There should be no lock out.
After all, the customers are the ones that we depend on for our jobs and the companies for their profits.
Following today’s meeting with the companies and the federal mediator, we will announce the time and the target of the strike.
We will make an effort to avoid a strike but, workers will not give up on health care. We are not asking for more, we are asking to keep the benefits that we have.
There is information on this website about company profits and health care costs.
Employers’ profits have risen 10 times faster than their hourly contribution to worker health care.
Their profits overall have gone up 91% since 1998.
We have contained health cares cost. The increased costs for health care for these employers have been significantly below the national average.
This is a battle between corporate greed and human need and, we are asking our communities to stand with us. We are your friends and your neighbors. We serve you everyday in your local supermarket. We ask for your support.
If the supermarket giants win, Southern California loses. These companies would drain over 328 million dollars a year from Southern California because when they cut health care for workers, they rip off California.
October 15, 2003
CHARLESTON, W. VA. – Poised to walk off the job at 10 o’clock this evening, 3,300 Kroger workers in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky vowed to stay out until the company agrees to provide decent health care benefits.
“This is not an issue of a company struggling to survive in a poor economy,” UFCW Local 400 President Jim Lowthers said. “This is an issue of corporate greed surging ahead at the expense of hard-working employees.”
Kroger earned $2.5 billion dollars over the past several years and has $562 million in profits so far this year. Yet it is underfunding employee benefit plans, refusing to provide adequate health care. This basic unfairness is why members of Local 400 voted to strike after weeks of unsuccessful negotiations, Lowthers said.
“Kroger’s policy apparently is ‘Billions for Profits, No Benefits for People,’” he said. “This policy hurts every community in the tri-state area, not just Kroger employees. If Kroger gets away with this, other employers will try it. We’re standing up for working families and demanding justice.”
Workers are confronting Kroger and other employee-pinching grocery chains nationwide. In California, 70,000 workers have walked off the job at Kroger’s Ralph’s stores, Safeway’s Vons stores and Albertsons, citing unacceptable health care packages. Another 10,000 Shop ‘N Save, Schnucks and Dierbergs workers in St. Louis are striking over pay and health care issues.
“Our members are trying to take care of their families,” Lowthers said. “Kroger is telling its employees that it will not provide the benefits to do that.”
Kroger stores affected include stores throughout West Virginia, Ashland, Kentucky, and Marietta, Ohio.
Additional press contact: Nelson Graham, 304-346-9679
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 represents more than 40,000 workers in West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee and the District of Columbia. The members work in industries ranging from meat processing plants and retail and grocery stores to nursing homes.
October 15, 2003
OR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: OCTOBER 11, 2003
Gephardt Health Care Stance Wins Support From
Nation’s Largest Private Sector Union
Davenport, Iowa—Today, the nation’s largest private sector union, and the largest union in Iowa, put the support of its 1.4 million members behind Dick Gephardt for President. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union endorsed the Gephardt campaign based on his plan to protect the employer-based health care system in the U.S.
The UFCW is at the forefront of the fight to protect health care at work for millions of working families. This weekend, UFCW is leading more than 70,000 supermarket employees on strike in Southern California to fight back against employer demands to destroy health benefits for workers and their families. In the meatpacking industry, UFCW members have been on strike since February 28, 2003, at Tyson Foods in Jefferson, Wisconsin, to stop Tyson from slashing health care for the 470 workers. In St. Louis, Missouri, 10,000 retail food workers are on the picket line fighting back against a similar employer demand that would threaten workers’ medical benefits.
“Most Americans get health care at work, and we want to keep it that way because the UFCW believes if you do the work, you’ve earned affordable health care,” said UFCW International Secretary-Treasurer Joe Hansen.
“If you have medical benefits at work, the Gephardt plan will make sure you keep them and that they stay affordable,” continued Hansen. “If you work, but don’t get benefits, the Gephardt plan will make sure you do.”
The endorsement was based on UFCW members’ views on working family issues in the context of the 2004 presidential election.
Research, conducted by the Wilson Center for Public Research, shows that UFCW members feel the government should take action to deal with:
· Rapidly rising health care costs (94%)
· 44 million Americans without health insurance (91%)
· Employer demands for cuts in medical benefits (87%)
In addition, 97% of those polled felt that a candidate’s position on protecting health care at work was important—75% said it was crucial—to making a decision about their choice for President in 2004.
These perceptions reflect the views of the cashier moms, a key demographic in next year’s election. UFCW membership mirrors the general workforce population in every category—gender, race, age, and marital status, making UFCW member views a snapshot of those held by millions of working people around the country.
The UFCW represents 1.4 million workers in the supermarket, meatpacking, poultry, food processing, health care, chemical, textile and garment, distillery, and other industries.
October 14, 2003
Friday, Oct. 10, 2003
UFCW Supermarket Workers Reject Employers’ Offer Vote Overwhelmingly To Protect Health Care and Retirement Benefits
In elections this week at seven local unions of the United Food and Commercial Workers, almost 70,000 supermarket workers in Southern California voted overwhelmingly to reject the demands of their employers and to authorize their leaders to call a strike. The vote to reject the proposals surpassed 97 percent.
Some 85 percent of workers eligible to vote did so in an unprecedented turnout of support for rejection of the offer.
The three supermarket companies – Albertson’s, Safeway (Vons) and Kroger (Ralphs) – have been working together to impose a package of severe cuts in benefits for their employees. In addition, they aim to set up a “”second tier”” of wages, benefits and working conditions for new employees – in effect making them second-class citizens in their own workplaces.
Workers have also announced that they will only target one supermaket chain in order to avoid inconveniencing their customers. Workers at the two other supermarket chains will urge their employers to allow them to stay on the job and not to act on Employer threats to lock the workers out of the stores. The other chains are urged by the seven locals on behalf of their customers and neighbors not to spread the dispute by engaging in a retaliatory lockout .
The seven local unions represent supermarket employees and other workers from Bishop in the north to the Mexican border in the south and from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Nevada and Arizona borders in the east.
The 1.4-million-strong United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is the largest private-sector union in North America. It represents employees of supermarkets, pharmacies, health agencies and other companies and organizations throughout the United States and Canada.
UFCW MEDIA CONTACTS:
Greg Denier, 202-256-7851 (cell)
Ellen Anreder, (818) 591-7480, (818) 416-9400 (cell)
Barbara Maynard, (323) 850-1356. (323) 855-8739 (cell)
October 1, 2003
More than 3,000 workers at Hormel plants in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota approved a new four-year contract in a vote last night. Workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union turned out to vote their approval for the agreement.
The new Hormel contract increases the base wage to $14/hour with raises over the term of the agreement. Workers also secured improvements for their pension, vacation and premium pay for night shifts while maintaining quality health care coverage for workers and their families.
The federal mediation office facilitated the negotiations and aided both parties to reach this agreement.
The new contract covers members of UFCW Local Unions 6, 9, 22, 1996 and 73A. The workers produce such well known products as SPAM luncheon meat and Dinty Moore beef stew.
September 16, 2003
Wal-Mart’s effort to silence workers through a ‘no solicitation’ policy its managers interpret as prohibiting any talk about union organizing is blatantly illegal, a National Labor Relations Board Judge has ruled in a case involving the Wal‑Mart Supercenter in Aiken, South Carolina.
Administrative Law Judge John West also found that Wal‑Mart illegally used wage increases for 89 employees at the first sign of union activity to take away one reason the workers were organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union.
The judge ordered the company to admit the purpose of the wage increases in a posting for employees was to influence them not to join a union. This was contrary to Wal‑Mart spokesman Bill Wertz’s insistence to a reporter in February that the judge would order the wage increases rescinded, showing that the union was “”acting in a way contrary to the interest of those associates,”” Wal‑Mart’s term for employees.
“”Judge West has given Wal‑Mart workers everywhere the roadmap to a wage increase: start talking about forming a union on the job,”” said UFCW Executive Vice President Michael E. Leonard, Director of the union’s Strategic Programs Department.
The ALJ’s ruling said that Wal-Mart workers discussing the union at work is not “soliciting by any stretch of the imagination.” Federal law gives workers the right to organize for a voice on the job. Wal-Mart has taken drastic steps to silence its workers and deny them the opportunity to participate in the democratic process to make a choice for a voice at work.
Aiken Wal-Mart workers Barbara Hall and Kathleen MacDonald were frustrated by Wal-Mart’s low wages and set out to try and organize their co-workers. Hall and MacDonald talked to their co-workers about the union and asked people if they could call them after work. Wal-Mart managers and Bentonville “People Managers” descended on the store with their usual carrot and stick approach to union busting – silencing some workers by giving them a bump in wages and then disciplining vocal union supporters.
The ALJ said, “To ask and employee for their telephone number to discuss the union, if the employee is interested, after work is not soliciting by any stretch of the imagination.”
Wal-Mart has used its ‘no solicitation’ policy in stores across the country to intimidate workers from talking about the union and attempts to use the policy as an excuse to discipline or fire workers who it suspects are union supporters. Larry Allen, a Wal-Mart worker from Las Vegas, was fired in August for supposedly violating the ‘no solicitation’ policy. Allen had traveled to San Francisco to talk with reporters at the UFCW International Convention about Wal-Mart’s lousy health insurance plan for workers. After returning to work, Allen was singled out and fired by Wal-Mart. His case is pending before the NLRB.
Over the past four years, Wal-Mart has changed its ‘no solicitation’ policy at least four times – each change based on a legal ruling against them that its policy is illegal. Charges are pending before the NLRB that the current policy violates workers’ rights.
Read the ruling (pdf)
August 20, 2003
Worker efforts to get a voice on the job at Wal-Mart stores in North America are gaining ground. Canadian Wal-Mart workers in Thompson, Manitoba, narrowly lost their efforts to get a voice on the job with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) – 61 to 54. The election signals a growing movement of workers ready to stand up for a better future at Wal-Mart.
The Thompson, Manitoba, vote was the first opportunity for an entire store of Wal-Mart workers to vote as a group. Several recent union elections at U.S. Wal-Mart stores have been blocked by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) due to Wal- Mart’s illegal actions to intimidate workers and suppress their efforts to get UFCW representation.
Wal-Mart used its union busting campaign in Manitoba like it has in stores across the United States – pulling out all the stops to harass, intimidate and threaten workers from exercising their fundamental democratic freedom to choose union representation. Time and time again, Wal-Mart has thumbed its nose at federal law and used illegal tactics to suppress workers’ voices – threatening to close the store, harassing union supporters, spying on worker activities or firing union supporters.
Last Saturday, Wal-Mart fired night stocker Kelvin Blackman after he appeared at a NLRB hearing about holding a union election at his Clinton, Maryland Wal-Mart store. UFCW Local 400 filed charges and Blackman’s co-workers stood behind him. Wal-Mart felt the pressure from its workers and reinstated Blackman less than 48 hours later. Wal-Mart are seeing that they aren’t alone, that they have the support of their communities and that when they stand together they can win.
Despite Wal-Mart’s scare tactics, the Manitoba workers showed real courage and demonstrated that workers across the U.S. and Canada are gaining the strength to stand up and take action for better wages, benefits and working conditions at the world’s biggest corporation.
“”The Manitoba vote shows that around the globe…in the U.S., Canada, Germany, whereever Wal-Mart operates…workers need and want a union voice to make the company live up to its promises of good wages and great working conditions,”” said Mike Leonard, UFCW Executive Vice President and Director of Strategic Programs. “”Thsi is a movement that can’t be stopped. There will be more union elections at Wal-Mart and workers are going to win.””
August 8, 2003
Loss prevention workers investigate incidences of theft at Wal-Mart—and now the U.S. District Court is seeking to determine if Wal-Mart’s stole overtime pay from these very same workers.
Judge T. John Ward has ordered Wal-Mart to disclose time records – including time clock archive reports and associate time card swipe data, time clock punch exemption reports, punch error reports, activity logs, week-to-date hours and expense summaries, and associates charged to the 945 account/PR404 – for all workers at Arkansas and Eastern Texas Wal-Mart stores. These records will be used to determine if workers—who were permitted to work overtime – put in extra hours without compensation.
Wal-Mart is required to turn over these time records within thirty days of the order, which is dated July 30, 2003. In addition, the Court has selected fifteen Texas and Arkansas Wal-Mart stores at random which must report the identities of and documentation for in-store loss prevention associates employed form September 13, 1999 to September 13, 2002, to determine if these workers were unfairly denied overtime pay.
The fifteen cities are: Tyler, Texarkana, Mt. Pleasant, Longview, Plano, Beaumont, Marshall, Center, Sherman/Denison, and Lufkin in Texas; and Little Rock, Fayetteville, Conway, Cabot, and Hot Springs in Arkansas.
The loss prevention associates are being represented by attorneys Michael Ace of Tyler, Tex., and Patrick M. Flynn of Houston.
For more information, contact Patrick M. Flynn at 713-861-6163 or Michael Ace at 903-595-1552
August 5, 2003
(Las Vegas) – Wal-Mart underestimated Larry Allen when it fired him last Friday in retaliation for his union activity. Tonight, Mr. Allen has the ear of key Democratic Presidential candidates following the AFL-CIO’s national working families Democratic presidential forum in Chicago.
Allen is joining thousands of union members on Tuesday, August 5th from 8:00-9:30 p.m. E.T. at Chicago’s Navy Pier where the candidates are responding to questions posed by workers. C-Span will broadcast the forum.
Allen is a produce clerk at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at Eastern & Serene in Henderson, Nevada. He began work there in May, 2002, and got involved in the effort to organize for a voice on the job in September.
Allen took two vacation days to attend United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Convention in San Francisco and participate in a presidential health care forum on August 1, 2003 with five Democratic presidential candidates who were critical of Wal-Mart’s inadequate health insurance. Allen spoke with reporters before the forum to give a background perspective the health care crisis.
When Allen returned to work on Friday, he was summarily fired on the pretext that he violated the company’s no-solicitation policy. He was fired “”pending investigation.”” Wal-Mart’s own policy requires a complete investigation before an employee is terminated. Wal-Mart’s labor relations’ policy dictates that no personnel action can be taken in a store with union activity without approval and involvement of the Bentonville, Arkansas-based labor relations “”people”” division.
He has always been a reliable, hard-working employee who received a good evaluation in April. His only brushes with discipline came when he confronted a co-worker who he believed was sexually harassing his wife — Allen told him to “”knock it off.”” Allen was written up. A couple months ago, a manager took him aside and told him that he really shouldn’t be passing out union cards in the break room. But federal law and Wal-Mart’s store policy protects workers from retaliation from union activity in “”non-work areas”” including break rooms.
Before his wife got a job in a union supermarket and became eligible for health insurance through her employer, Allen went without. He worked full-time at Wal-Mart but couldn’t afford to buy the company’s health plan. In January, 2003, Allen started feeling odd and sought treatment at an emergency clinic. He was in the beginning stages of having a stroke and was treated in the Intensive Care unit for five days. Health care workers saved his life, even though he couldn’t pay for their services. Luckily, he had a full recovery and suffers no effect from the stroke. He takes prescription medicine now to help prevent another incidence – medicine that would cost him more than $300 per month. Thanks to his wife’s employer-provided health insurance, he pays a small fraction of that bill $8.00. He will spend the rest of his life trying to pay back the more than $30,000 he owes to the hospital.
Wal-Mart workers in Las Vegas and across the country are standing up for a voice on the job with the UFCW. The Las Vegas workers have set up their own website — www.walmartworkerslv.com