News and Updates
January 23, 2014
In this week’s member spotlight, we’re highlighting the story of another longtime UFCW member, who like last week’s spotlight member, is also from West Virginia.
Local 23 member Mechelle Cunningham caught our attention when we saw how she spearheaded a collection drive at her workplace–Giant Eagle in Morgantown, West Virginia. After hearing about a friend who had donated some water and that trucks were bringing water to people in her state who were affected by the chemical spill in and around Charleston, WV, Mechelle looked at the 3 pallets of water on the store floor in front of her and told her manager she wanted to purchase them and have them removed from the store floor. Her manager, knowing the cost was around $560 dollars, said, “Today?” Mechelle’s response was automatic.
“I didn’t think about the price–I just knew that my fellow employees would gather together to purchase that water to send down there. I told her that one way or another we’d get the money, and we did!” Together, Mechelle, her fellow union members, and other members of the community were able to send 17 pallets of water to those in need.
For Mechelle, being a union member means “standing up for your rights, and helping one another”. When talking with Mechelle, its clear that the ‘helping one another’ part is big for her, as demonstrated by her role in the donation of the water pallets: “We all really help one another and donate for different causes and support each other, and especially with something that large for our community, you know, people not having water–that’s a main thing, you have to have that.”
Mechelle is coming up on her 40th year as a UFCW member and has experienced first-hand how being in a union means there’s always someone there to help–“to back you and support you”. Mechelle finds that oftentimes, many people don’t know about the union, and until they sit down and talk about it, don’t fully understand what it is. “I just have such a strong belief in the union,” says Mechelle, which is why she helps spread the word at work about how people–often younger members who haven’t been through strikes for better working conditions like she has–can protect their rights. By sharing her own experiences as a union member, and how it has helped her, she finds that she is helping them understand, even when there isn’t something currently happening.
Active community members like Mechelle inspire us every day. Do you know a UFCW member whose story we could share? Tell us about them at http://www.ufcw.org/resources/members/share-your-story/
January 14, 2014
Union Strong. What’s behind that saying? Easy–union members.
What makes a union strong, are the members: workers who stand together, are involved in their workplace and communities, and work to better the lives of all working people. This week we would like to shine a light on one of those members.
Gary Southall has worked at Kroger–as a head deli clerk, a head checker, a head frozen food clerk, and now as a cashier–in Jackson County West Virginia for 41 years. He has been a UFCW member for just as long. Coming from a union family, it seems to be in his blood: “My dad, my grampa, all the uncles–everybody union members for as long as I can remember.”
When he began working at Kroger at the age of 16, the union was already in place, however, Gary eventually got more involved with his union, and has become a true member activist over the years. Not only is Gary a Local 400 steward, but is an avid supporter of programs in his community that benefit working people and better living conditions for young people.
One such program is the Jackson County Anti-Drug Coalition, which works to reduce underage alcohol abuse and substance use among youth. He has helped garner $1500 in donations for the coalition, $500 of which is from UFCW Local 400. Gary is also a member of the Central Labor Council, and an officer with the AFL-CIO, and as part of the AFL’s national initiative, he strives to be very involved in his community, even if it doesn’t involve union members. “We just take care of each other,” Gary says of the work he does.
Gary also lobbies for the UFCW, and this week helped re-introduce a bill that will prevent the sale of alcohol through self-checkout machines. The bill’s intent is to curb the ease with which already intoxicated or underage consumers can purchase alcohol.
When talking to Gary, its clear that he really cares for the youth in his community, and wants them to have as much opportunity in life as possible. Gary, working with the West Virginia AFL-CIO, has helped promote an educational video called Labor in the Mountains, which tells the story of labor’s history in West Virginia and the coal-industry, as told by a grandfather who lived through much of it, as he answers his granddaughter’s questions. Seeing the importance of teaching students about Labor’s influence on the middle class, the group worked hard to ensure that, effective this year, the video will now be shown in all middle school and high school civics classes in Jackson County, and they are working to spread this to the curriculum of other counties as well. Similarly, Gary is also working with others to promote an award-winning book called Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type in which some literate cows leave notes for their farmer, demanding better working conditions and eventually going on strike. They are hoping to get a copy of the book into all third grade classes in the county, as well as community libraries.
On top of helping to promote labor education for kids, Gary is also involved with a program called Reconnecting McDowell, which works to help kids living in poverty in this neighboring Appalachain county, by improving education, providing food, and helping kids find safe spaces, among many other things.
Now in his fourth year at the Leadership Academy, hosted by the AFL-CIO and the West Virginia University institute of labor studies and researches, Gary has emerged as a true leader, helping others to see why unions are so important.
Gary has been through two strikes at Kroger, earlier on in his career. It was during those times when he saw how important the union difference was: “At that time I was working part-time, and I wasn’t making very much money–but when I went back to work after the strike, I was making double that money, which was fantastic for a young guy still in school.”
“But the point [of the union] in general, for me and for everybody, if they know it, is that you have a voice–you’re not out there by yourself, and you have someone to help you if you need help. You know your union steward–I’m a union steward and I have been for 15 or 20 years. No one can come out here and single you out, or say ‘If I don’t like ya, we’ll fire ya’ or that kind of thing.” He says that the union creates better work practices, and prevents unsafe working conditions: “you’ve got someone to say, ‘you know you can’t do that’ and if someone says ‘you need to do this or we’ll fire you’ well, no, we aren’t gonna do it if it’s not safe.”
“We’ve got welfare benefits, like pretty good insurance and I’ve got six weeks of vacation now. Industry-wide, at least my area here in West Virginia, no one else in the grocery business makes the kind of money that we make.”
But one story Gary likes to tell, to show what solidarity can do, doesn’t have anything to do with wages or benefits. “It may sound kind of silly but, I have a son who will be 36 in April. When he was 6 weeks old, Kroger came in one day, and some of us fellas had started growing beards–and I don’t remember what the reason was, but we had decided to grow beards. Anyway they came in and they told us we couldn’t grow a beard on company time, that if we wanted to grow one, we had to grow it on our own time, and shave it off for company time.” Gary says that this mandate didn’t sit too well them. “Of the people still there, and there are four in my workplace that were there when this happened–we still have that beard that we couldn’t grow 35 years ago. That was the last day I was clean-shaven, and I haven’t shaved from that day on, 35 years ago.” Gary and his coworkers stood together, in doing something as simple as not shaving off their beards, and Kroger backed off. Recently, one of Gary’s close friends and co-workers was asked to shave. His response was, “I’ll tell you what–the day that Gary Southall shaves, I’ll do it too.”
Gary is a true example of what unions can do when members are active and involved, and how they benefit the people in their communities. Stories like his inspire us to stay strong and continue sticking together in solidarity for the middle class, and all working people!
If you know a UFCW member who inspires you, or has a story worth telling, please contact Mia Perry at email@example.com
November 14, 2013
Fired up about management intransigence at the bargaining table, members of United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 yesterday voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike against Giant.
Their current contract originally expired on October 31st. It was extended for two weeks and has since been extended through December 20th, while bargaining takes place on a new agreement. Today’s vote does not mean that a strike will occur, but it sends a strong single to Giant that members will do whatever it takes to get a fair contract.
“Today, our members put Giant on notice that it is long past time to come to the table with a proposal that provides them with the security, respect and dignity they have more than earned,” said Local 400 President Mark P. Federici.
“We’re the ones making all their money and it’s about time they recognize that and start respecting us,” said Tasha Schrantz, a Local 400 member serving on the Bargaining Advisory Committee who works at Giant #749. “Now more than ever, we have a stand up together because actions speak louder than words.”
“We need to keep this momentum up, we have to stand together and we as union members need to actively support our decision by participating in store actions,” said LaWanda Nedd-Kea, a Bargaining Advisory Committee member who works at Giant #140.
“It’s our members whose hard work, unmatched productivity and outstanding customer service make Giant so profitable and the dominant grocer in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area,” Federici said. “All our members ask of management is a fair deal that reflects all they contribute to the bottom line. No one wants a strike, but if that is the only way to get a contract providing living wages and health and retirement security, that is what we will do.”
UFCW Local 400 represents 40,000 members working in the retail food, health care, retail department store, food processing, service and other industries in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
October 31, 2013
Last week, 360 Factor Sales grocery workers in Yuma, Ariz., joined UFCW Local 99 through a card check process that allowed them to have a free and fair choice. Workers at nine grocery stores stayed united throughout the campaign by communicating with each other through Facebook, text messages, and worker meetings.
Workers said they wanted a union voice so they would have dignity and respect on the job, a way to solve problems at work, and improvements in pay and benefits.
“Finally we have a voice, respect and dignity at work,” said Lupita Iniguez, a Factor Sales worker.
Workers have been fighting for better jobs and to be a part of a union since 2004. The successful card check follows the workers’ two previous attempts to join a union. In the two other card checks, the company was charged with unfair election practices by the NLRB.
“Congratulations to the many workers whose lives were changed today. Their hard work and dedication paid off,” said UFCW Local 99 President Jim McLaughlin.
Factor Sales operates Del Sol and King Market grocery stores.
October 30, 2013
This week, during a speech about poverty, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez praised Costco, a union store, for its business practices, which continually pay its employees living wages, and continue to yield profits. According the Huffington Post, Perez joined the long list of Costco admirers when he stated that Costco proves the notion of the service industry having to adhere to a minimum-wage business model to be wrong, and “phooey”.
Secretary Perez is right–in an industry that employs millions of working poor, whom struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis, Costco is a shining light. The wholesale retailer is known for low employee turnover, thanks to its wages that allow people to actually make a living, and its health benefits. Costco values its workers–without them, the company couldn’t be the success that it is. These ideals are embodied in Costco cofounder Jim Sinegal and former CEO. In his speech, Secretary Perez remembered:
“I went to a [Costco] grand opening in Northern Virginia. The woman who was the manager at that store, she started out pushing carts, to use her term. And the remarkable loyalty that they have to Jim is a function of the fact that he categorically rejects the notion that, ‘I either take care of my shareholders or my workers’. That is a false choice.”
But part of the reason Costco’s workers are making good wages and receive benefits is due to the fact that over 15,000 of its workers are unionized. Organized by the Teamsters, Costco is union-friendly and meets workers on an even playing field when it comes to bargaining, and as union members, they have a say in the terms and conditions of their employment. For more than 20 years, they have stood together to ensure their rights as workers are protected.
The union-difference is huge. UFCW members work at grocery stores, retailers, and packing and processing plants all across the country. As union members, they are able to stand together and bargain for decent wages that allow them to feed their families and pay their bills, unlike Walmart, which pays such low wages that many of its associates must choose between shelter or food. Union jobs are good, middle class jobs, that provide healthcare, sick-leave, and retirement benefits. When workers stand together, like at Costco, or at UFCW shops like Kroger and Macy’s, they have a powerful voice that can stand up to that of the company.
October 30, 2013
Workers at Bestway, a Latino supermarket in the Falls Church, Va. suburb of Washington, D.C. came together in September to form a union at their work. However, their company ignored their requests to bargain and instead engaged in systematic illegal retaliation against union supporters by cutting hours, changing schedules, holding one-on-one interrogation meetings and threatening to call immigration on the workers. But workers at Bestway stayed strong and held together and staged a work stoppage to protest the company’s illegal conduct. The company responded by firing 31 workers in attempt to silence the workers.
The workers continued to hold strong against the company threats and intimidation. They staged a daily picket line outside the store to educate customers on the unfair treatment and violations of labor law.
After seeing a noticeable decrease in business, Bestway reached an agreement with workers to reinstate all terminated workers, recognize UFCW Local 400 as their union, provide back pay to terminated workers, and begin contract negotiations with workers this week. Metilde Reyes is one of those workers.
Metilde Reyes is a mother of three that has worked at Bestway for 13 years. The company calls her a “supervisor,” but she gets no extra pay or better treatment from her position. She works to make sure the cashiers work together to check customers out and to void merchandise when necessary.
When Bestway illegally fired her coworkers for standing up, they offered her extra money and more hours to train their replacements, instead, she joined her coworkers in protesting in front of her store.
“I do love my job” said Metilede, “but I love my people more. I had to come out and support them.”
Together, Bestway workers like Metilde are negotiating for better wages, benefits and working conditions. But that’s just the beginning of their journey – they’re now working to show workers at other Bestway stores what’s possible when workers come together.
“I can’t wait for the day when workers at all Bestway Supermercados get the same rights that we now have at our store,” said Metilde.
October 23, 2013
On Monday, 31 workers at a Bestway supermarket in Falls Church, Virginia, went back to work after being illegally fired in retaliation for forming a union. The workers picketed their store for more than ten days before reaching an agreement with Bestway last week to reinstate the workers and begin negotiations for their first union contract.
“We are so happy to be going back to work today,” said Matilde Reyes, a veteran worker who has been with Bestway for more than 13 years. “Bestway has agreed to respect us and follow the laws that protect workers’ rights. I can’t wait for the day when workers at all Bestway Supermercados get the same rights that we now have at our store.”
The workers at the Bestway store formed a union in late September, with the overwhelming majority of store employees signing cards to join UFCW Local 400. But Bestway ignored the workers’ requests to recognize their union and set bargaining dates. Instead, the company engaged in systematic illegal retaliation against union supporters by cutting hours, changing schedules, holding one-on-one interrogation meetings, and threatening to call immigration on the workers, among other scare tactics.
Workers staged a one hour work stoppage on October 9 to protest the retaliation and Bestway’s failure to recognize the union. Bestway retaliated against its staff again, and fired 31 workers, an action that violated national labor laws.
But the workers refused to back down, staging a daily picket line outside the store to educate customers on the unfair treatment and violations of labor law. After seeing a noticeable decrease in business, Bestway reached an agreement with workers on Friday to reinstate all terminated workers, recognize UFCW Local 400 as their union, provide back pay to terminated workers, and begin contract negotiations with workers this week.
“This has always been about respect and dignity on the job,” said Nerida Castro, a Bestway worker whose two daughters walked the picket line with her. “My girls saw the power people can have when we stand together for what’s right. I did this for them.”
Carlos Hernandez, who works in the seafood department, credited the support of the local community for convincing Bestway to recognize the workers’ union.
“Our customers were really on our side. So many customers turned their cars around after hearing our stories. It’s their actions that helped convince management to listen to us. I want to thank each and every one of our customers and I look forward to seeing them back at Bestway now that we are a union shop.”
The workers will begin bargaining with Bestway this week to negotiate a union contract that ensures that the store complies with all labor regulations and provides living wages and benefits.
August 18, 2013
Earlier this year, UFCW launched a photo contest to highlight UFCW made products and members at work. We asked members and staff to post pictures on our Facebook app of themselves or their co-workers or members–on the job or with the products we make.
Congratulations to the winners of our contest! We will be contacting our winners about their prizes shortly. We’ll also post the winning pictures soon.
These members and staff got the most votes for their terrific photos, and have won the following in order of most votes received:
First Place: Paula, Local 770 Santa Barbara, winning a $500 grocery gift card
Second Place: Dawne, Local 880, winning a $250 grocery gift card
Third Place: Cole Edwards, Local 1189, winning a $250 grocery gift card
Fourth Place: Mary Brown, Local 1428, winning a UFCW Bonded Fleece Jacket
Fifth Place: Diane Johnson, Local 770, winning a UFCW T-shirt
Sixth Place: George Wilson, Local 23, winning a UFCW travel mug
Congratulations to our winners, and thank you to all who posted, voted, shared, and sent in pictures–we’ll be posting many of your pictures on Facebook and on our website in the weeks and months to come!
July 1, 2013
What’s more patriotic than celebrating Independence day with made-in-America, union-made products? Supporting good American jobs is easy–just refer to this union-made shopping list for your BBQ or get-together, brought to you by Labor 411 and the AFL-CIO!
Omaha Steaks products are UFCW-made
All of the following hot dogs are UFCW-made:
- Ball Park
- Boar’s Head
- Foster Farms
- Hebrew National
- Oscar Mayer
- Gianelli (UFCW)
- Kroger brand (UFCW)
- French’s and Guldens Mustard (UFCW)
- Heinz Ketchup and Catsup (UFCW)
- Lucky Whip
- Hidden Valley Ranch
- Sara Lee (UFCW)
Soda & Bottled Water:
- Barq’s Rootbeer, Coke , and Sprite products (UFCW)
- American Springs and Poland Springs Water (UFCW)
- Pocono Northern Fall’s Water
- Bud Light (UFCW)
- Milwaukee’s Best
- Rolling Rock
- Goose Island
Snacks & Desserts:
- Breyers & Good Humor Ice Cream (UFCW)
- Flips pretzels
- Frito-Lay Chips
- Solo cups
- Weber Q grills
- Igloo coolers
June 14, 2013
This week, 26 members of Congress have committed to living off of a food stamp budget in order to bring awareness to the House Republican cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Already, the SNAP program denies eligibility to 50 million “food insecure households”. But now, proposed changes to the Farm Bill would strip access to the program from an additional 2 million families.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and the other congress members participating in the SNAP challenge are addressing this alarming issue by attempting to live off of less than $4.50 a day.
On Wednesday, the challenge participants stopped at a Washington D.C. Safeway, where Local 400 members work, to buy a week’s worth of groceries for about $30. In order to keep to the strict budget of the food stamp program, staples like milk and butter were out of the question. Representative Lee described the difficulty of the trip in an online blog:
“What I’m thinking about most during this trip is that I’m shopping only for myself. When I was a young, single mother, I was on public assistance. It was a bridge over troubled water, and without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I spent hours debating what to buy and what to skip, all the while keeping my sons in my mind.”
The proposed changes to the Farm bill will send many single parents who are in this position, into a state of utter uncertainty about how to provide food for their families. A large portion of those affected by the cuts will be under the age of 18.
This is not the first time officials have tried the SNAP challenge, however. Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker did so earlier this year, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton found that adhering to the food stamp budget left him feeling tired, and eventually “unable to focus”. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) admitted that if this was how he had to live, he would likely be a more unpleasant person, due to his state of hunger. He also lost six pounds in just four days.
The conservatives who claim food stamp programs create dependency on government don’t know what its like to go hungry. Some may joke about those who must rely on government programs, but the reality is that many hard-working people cannot make ends meet without them.
UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici made a statement following the group’s visit to Safeway this week, commending the challenge participants:
“Year in and year out, the SNAP/Food Stamp program proves itself an unqualified success in reducing hunger, alleviating poverty and stimulating the economy. That’s why we are deeply dismayed that the Senate version of the Farm Bill re-authorization cuts SNAP benefits for approximately 500,000 households, and outraged that the House version of the legislation would completely eliminate benefits for two million low-income families. This would be bad enough under any circumstances, but it’s even worse coming at a time when far too many Americans are unemployed and our economic recovery is still shaky.
“The SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge is a critical way for elected officials and other leaders to experience first-hand how hard it is to feed a family on a SNAP budget, and to understand why benefits should be increased, rather than cut. We applaud all the members of Congress who are joining the challenge this week, and we are especially proud that they chose to purchase their groceries at a union shop. They understand that shopping union gets you the most value for your grocery dollar and the best customer service in the industry.
“Local 400 is privileged to join with these members of Congress in educating the public about the persistence of hunger in America and urging lawmakers to restore full funding to the SNAP/Food Stamp program in the Farm Bill.
“We also remind policy makers that the best way to reduce SNAP expenditures is to shop union, and to restore to workers their right to choose collective bargaining. The rise of low-wage employers like Walmart is a big reason why the SNAP program has grown in recent years, because the workers earn so little, they need Food Stamps to feed their families. By contrast, the more workers with union contracts, the fewer workers will need SNAP or any other type of federal assistance. That’s a win-win solution for everybody, because it lowers poverty, eases hunger, bolsters the economy, and improves government balance sheets.”