News and Updates
August 4, 2003
Worker Voices Censored by “”Vegetarian Times””
Whole Foods workers are exposing the whole truth about Whole Foods Markets. “”Take a look behind the company’s ‘core values’ veneer…its high polish ‘commitment’ to team member, communities, and customers”” ask Whole Foods workers in an ad campaign hitting news stands on Friday.
Ads will debut this week in the leading weekly papers in New York City, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boulder, Colorado. Whole Foods workers are speaking out as part of a growing national movement for a voice with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).
Whole Foods management promotes a set of ‘core values’ that shape the stores. Yet workers feel the company has abandoned those values and seek a voice with the UFCW to help keep the company focused on its founding principles.
The workers’ ad asks customers:
“”Have you ever talked with a Whole Foods worker who is trying to take the company’s glossy pronouncements seriously about respect for team members, self-direction, self-responsibility, open and timely information…workers who take the company at its word and attempt to create a quality work environment?””
Workers in Madison, Wisconsin kick-started the national movement by voting for UFCW Local 1444 representation on July 15, 2002. Despite Whole Foods’ stall tactics, the workers continue to bargain with them and are working toward reaching a first contract.
The Madison campaign leaders launched a website, www.wholeworkersunite.org where workers from the 142 Whole Foods stores can connect with each other and learn about taking action for a better workplace.
The National Labor Relations Board postponed the scheduled April 4 election at the Whole Foods store in Tyson’s Corner, Va., while it investigates charges that the company engaged in a variety of illegal activities designed to stop the employees’ organizing efforts, including:
- Termination, surveillance and interrogation of pro-union employees.
- Allowing anti-union literature to be circulated while at the same time blocking the distribution of pro-union literature.
- Arbitrarily changing the schedules of pro-union employees to create hardships for working parents.
- Illegal polling of the workers’ stance on the union through a purported “”contest,”” which awarded employees money for expressing anti-union views.
Employees at the Virginia store sought out UFCW Local 400 organizers last November over complaints of low pay and changes to health and insurance benefits, among other issues.
The growing movement of Whole Foods workers is reaching out to customers and community members for support in their effort to have a voice at work. The national newspaper ads calls on the public to email Whole Foods at firstname.lastname@example.org and let the company know that the community supports the workers.
“”Vegetarian Times”” magazine silenced the voices of the Whole Foods employees by refusing to run the paid advertisement citing a close business and personal relationship with Whole Foods.
Whole Foods faces unfair labor charges for its campaign to suppress worker rights in Wisconsin and Virginia. New York City union members, labor leaders and elected officials will call on Whole Foods to respect local workers and consumers by lifting up workplace standards and obeying the law.
August 4, 2003
(Washington, DC)–America’s most dangerous industries will most likely stay that way if OSHA continues to stall. The low-wage, predominantly Hispanic immigrant, workforce in meatpacking and poultry plants suffer the highest injury rates in the nation. Forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear, such as mesh gloves, boots and even ear plugs, workers end up wearing it beyond its useful life, putting them at risk for serious injury.
The labor movement, in conjunction with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is calling for the Secretary of Labor to act on the rule that mandates employer payment for personal protective equipment. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW)– joined by eight additional labor organizations–today, filed a petition with the Secretary of Labor to demand action within 60 days. This standard has been stalled at the agency for three years.
“”Many workers in these industries rely on personal protective equipment as virtually their only measure of protection. Workers should not be required to bear the cost of this basic protection.”” said Jackie Nowell, Director, Occupational Safety and Health Office, UFCW.
Nowell points out that workers in meat and poultry industries, for example, wear metal mesh gloves, which cost as much as $65, to prevent knife cuts and rubber boots to prevent falling on slippery floors.
In 1999, members of the UFCW and other unions offered real world testimony that without a requirement for employer payment, equipment was often improperly selected, poorly maintained and used beyond its useful life, putting workers at risk of injury.
“”Low-wage workers are most acutely in need of the protection offered by the rule. In the higher wage industries, most employers routinely supply all required safety gear free of charge.”” said Nowell.
Despite the clear demonstrated need and support for this requirement, the rule was not finalized and has lain dormant for three years. The rule has repeatedly slipped off OSHA’s Regulatory Agenda, and most recently was listed as a long-term action with the notation “”Next Action Undetermined.””
“”It is shocking and irresponsible that the Department can move so fast to cut overtime pay for workers through regulations, but won’t move a simple job safety regulation that has been waiting for years,”” said Patricia Scarcelli, International Vice President and Director of the Legislative and Political Affairs Department. “”This simple rule can help to improve the day-to-day lives of thousands of immigrant workers. And it is sitting there waiting for Secretary Chao to give the word.””
August 4, 2003
Hundreds of local Kohl’s supermarket workers are mobilizing the community to join a grassroots effort to keep the Kohl’s family of workers together. The workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Locals 1444 and 73A, face an uncertain future and fear losing their family’s health care now that Roundy’s has purchased the Kohl’s stores.
Consumers in the Madison and Dane County communities are receiving postcards from Kohl’s workers asking for their support in the campaign to protect worker’s jobs. Roundy’s is refusing to provide any assurances to the long-time Kohl’s workers–which could result in hundreds of local workers to lose their jobs and family health insurance.
“”Keep our Kohl’s family together,”” reads the postcard. “”Now Roundy’s has purchased Kohl’s– with no commitment to the working families who have made these stores part of our community. We could lose our family health care coverage.””
Roundy’s management is planning to close the Kohl’s stores before reopening as “”Copps”” (a Roundy’s subsidiary) in order to skirt federal labor law designed to protect workers in the event of a sale. Kohl’s workers have been notified that they must apply for positions at the Roundy’s stores, and will be forced to lose years of seniority, benefits and take significant wage reductions. Workers are facing a very uncertain and potentially devastating future now with Copps.
“”Our entire community depends on good jobs with quality family health care. Kohl’s workers are part of this community. Roundy’s should respect our community and respect these workers enough to honor their many years of quality service and retain the Kohl’s workers,”” said Daniel Welch, UFCW Local 1444 President.
The grassroots postcard campaign is the latest step in the grassroots effort to save good local jobs with family health insurance. Last week, twenty four Dane County Commissioners signed a letter calling on Roundy’s to retain the long-time local workers and maintain their wages and benefits.
August 4, 2003
Food And Commercial Workers Union Goes National With Wisconsin Strike
Pizza Hut is about to get a lot of unwanted customer attention as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has dropped approximately a half-million piece mailing to working families across the United States. The mailing asks that Pizza Hut customers contact the company asking that the giant pizza chain make its pizza “”Tyson- free.”” The mass mailing comes as part of a national campaign to roll back corporate greed in response to Tyson’s effort to rollover striking workers at a highly profitable pepperoni plant in Jefferson, Wisconsin.
The dispute started in late February when Tyson demanded that workers accept a complete elimination of the pension plan for all future workers, unaffordable cost increases for workers’ health insurance and a wage freeze on top of a wage cut. After more than 100 years of operation without a strike, Tyson greed forced workers into the street. The meat conglomerate made no pretense about the lack of economic necessity for its demands–the plant is profitable–but, simply stated that the company’s intent was to lower the standards at the Wisconsin plant to the level of its non-union poultry operations.
Tyson’s recent expansion into pork, beef and processing could face a rough road as workers and communities resist the lowering of living and working standards. Already Jefferson, Wisconsin area merchants and consumers have removed Tyson products from shelves and shopping lists. Now, one of Tyson’s biggest customers, Pizza Hut, could begin to feel the heat from its core consumer base, working parents with younger children. In addition to sending e-letters to corporate headquarters, families are being asked to say “”Tyson-free”” pizza toppings when at Pizza Hut.
The unnecessary conflict slams into an image make-over for Tyson as it tries to move from a supplier to a branded item on consumer’s shopping lists. The company is spending millions in ad dollars to convince American shoppers of Tyson’s premier status in shopping carts and on kitchen tables.
Working families are not fooled by Tyson’s glossy advertisements. Log on to www.tysonfamiliesstandup.org to learn more about the striking Tyson workers and to take action on their behalf.
For other UFCW News on the Tyson Strike see below:
August 4, 2003
Wal-Mart’s Attack on the Union Cited in Canadian Labour Board Complaint
UFCW Wins Meeting with Workers on Company Time
When United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1518 organizer David Noble referred to a Wal-Mart “”hit list”” of pro-union employees during an organizing campaign in a Quesnel, British Columbia, store, management responded with personal attacks on Noble and a denial that the list even existed. Wal-Mart portrayed Noble and the union as liars and told employees to call the police if union reps visited them at home.
As a result, the British Columbia Labour Board has slapped Wal-Mart for yet another violation of workers’ right to organize. The Board ruled that, not only was Noble justified in referring to such a hit list, but that Wal-Mart grossly interfered with the organizing campaign. The company, widely known in the U.S. for its anti-union practices, was attempting to hide its union-busting strategy with an attack on the credibility and truthfulness of the union itself.
The Labour Board found Wal-Mart’s attack on the union and the organizer unfounded and slammed Wal-Mart for their underhanded practices.
“”If Wal-Mart is concerned about this as an organizing tactic, then it should refrain from arbitrarily targeting employees for dismissal as an easy way to solve its people problems,”” the Board decision reads.
The decision is further evidence of Wal-Mart’s mission to silence its workers’ voices and keep its stores union-free. The company is searching high and low for ways to take the focus off of the way it treats its workers by trying to discredit union organizers dedicated to help Wal-Mart workers have a voice in the workplace.
“”There is no shortage of new mistakes that it [Wal-Mart] finds ways to make,”” the decision continues.
The Canadian Labour Board acted quickly to address Wal-Mart’s misdeeds with meaningful remedies that will help workers’ stand up for their rights on the job. Wal- Mart will have to read the decision during a meeting of all employees at the Quesnel store. In addition, the Board ordered Wal-Mart to allow UFCW Local 1518 to address workers for 30 minutes directly following the reading of the decision–allowing Wal-Mart workers the opportunity to hear about the benefits of unionization without interruption from their managers.
“”Wal-Mart’s war on workers is a war they conduct wherever the company operates,”” says UFCW Executive Vice President Mike Leonard. “”These are serious laws designed to protect workers, and Wal-Mart is quickly finding out that violating these laws brings serious repercussions.””
The decision by the British Columbia Labour Board comes on the heels of guilty verdicts found by the National Labor Board (NLRB) in the U.S. Wal-Mart was found in violation of U.S. labor law when the company fired, spied on, and intimated employees in several different stores. The NLRB has ordered Wal-Mart to read and post its decisions in its U.S. stores as a result of the violations.
“”Wal-Mart keeps insisting that it respects its associate’s rights,”” says Local 1518 President Brooke Sundin. “”But this behavior is typical of Wal-Mart all around North America. When workers exercise their legal right to talk to a union, Wal-Mart violates those rights.””
August 4, 2003
Wal-Mart’s benefits book misled approximately a million workers with illegal language about exclusions to the plan – leading the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to support a lawsuit against the company on behalf of Wal-Mart associates. The lawsuit charges that the summary plan description, or Wal-Mart Associate Benefit Book, violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The Benefit Book is required by law to accurately and clearly inform associates about their benefits?but Wal-Mart is misleading workers with language inconsistent with benefit plan documents.
“”Wal-Mart will go to any length – even trying to make their employees fear losing their benefits – to stop workers from having a voice in their stores,”” says UFCW Executive Vice President Mike Leonard. “”It is a slap in the face of workers for Wal-Mart to lie about benefits to protect their own interests.””
Once union organizing began in stores around the country, Wal-Mart placed illegal language in its benefit book, stating that “” union represented associates”” are excluded from participation. Recently, a National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge ruled that the language violated the National Labor Relations Act. In the decision, the judge called the language, “”a not very subtle threat to its [Wal-Mart’s] employees that something unpleasant will happen to them if they organize, namely the loss of company benefits.””
David Rosenfeld has filed the lawsuit in San Francisco, charging that Wal-Mart is using its employee benefit book to further its anti-union campaign?rather than to accurately inform workers as ERISA requires. The lawsuit seeks, among other things, fixing the benefit book and notifying workers of their rights.
“”Wal-Mart has been trying to hold its benefits hostage in exchange for employees giving up their rights to organize,”” explains Leonard. “”We will do whatever it takes under the law to ensure that workers get the information they are entitled to about their benefits, and their right to organize.””
August 4, 2003
Company Ordered to Turn Over Information to Union
When meat cutters at a Jacksonville, Tex., Wal-Mart voted for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 540 representation, the company refused to recognize the union—and suddenly changed the job functions of the meat cutters with a change to case-ready meat. Wal-Mart believed it had successfully circumvented the UFCW’s first victory at one of its stores—until a National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge ordered the company to recognize and bargain with Local 540 over the effects of the change to prepackaged meat. This order comes more than three years after the original union election.
“”Changing the way all of its store sells meat shows the extent to which Wal-Mart will go to keep the union out of its stores,”” says UFCW Executive Vice President Mike Leonard. “”Anytime management concocts a scheme to ratchet down people’s livelihoods, it says a lot about the real nature of the company.””
Wal-Mart quickly changed how the Jacksonville store’s meat department operated after the workers voted for Local 540, making the meat cutters into “”sales associates.”” The sudden switch to case-ready meat became evidence of the scope of Wal-Mart’s anti-union strategy. Wal-Mart even boasted to its managers in a Powerpoint presentation, “”It’s the ultimate union avoidance strategy!”” The meat cutters’ specialized skills were devalued once their work assignments were changed.
“”The absence of future wage increases, coupled with the effects of inflation, constitute a very demonstrable and adverse effect,”” the judge concluded. “”The elimination of work requiring their special skills greatly affected both job satisfaction and future earning potential.”” The judge has ordered Wal-Mart to recognize UFCW Local 540 as the bargaining representative for the meat cutters, and restore the department to its prior structure. The judge also ordered Wal-Mart to bargain with Local 540 concerning the effects of the decision to eliminate meat cutting from the Jacksonville store. Wal-Mart must provide the information regarding decision to switch to prepackaged meats that it withheld from the workers’ union at the time of the change.
On Tuesday, Local 540 President Johnny Rodriguez formally requested the start of bargaining with Wal-Mart. Such negotiations would mark the first time that Wal-Mart and the union would sit at the bargaining table.
“”This is a historic decision – the first bargaining order issued against Wal-Mart in the United States,”” explains Leonard. “”It is a victory for all Wal-Mart workers who are fighting for a voice at work.””
The meat cutters in Jacksonville became the first group of workers to vote for union representation at Wal-Mart in February, 2000. Just one month later—during a separate NLRB hearing on a union election at a meat department in Palestine, Tex.—Wal-Mart announced it had decided to replace freshly cut meat with case-ready meat-eliminating the need for meat cutters in every one of its stores. Wal-Mart has repeatedly stated that it will not bargain with any union, and has taken steps to prevent workers from organizing in stores across North America.
August 4, 2003
Today, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed and remanded the nationwide injunction Wal-Mart had obtained against the UFCW in 2001.
This is a victory for common sense and the rule of law. Wal-Mart clearly over-reached in getting a county judge in Arkansas to issue a nationwide injunction, and by seeking to have a company policy enforced as if it were a law passed by a representative, legislative body.
As the record made clear, the UFCW representatives Wal-Mart sought to enjoin actually left the stores when a manager asked them to leave, so there was no “”irreparable harm”” which is required for such an injunction. Wal-Mart goes to extremes to deny its employees information about their legal rights, and the Arkansas Supreme Court has now delivered that message to Bentonville.
August 4, 2003
Company Settles Second Case in Georgia; Faces New Complaint in Ft. Myers
(Orlando, Florida) – After just one week on the job, Wal-Mart cashier Cherie Beck was terminated when she complained on behalf of herself and her co-workers to her supervisor about constantly changing schedules that made managing her life nearly impossible. Beck was then fired for what the company called “”hostile behavior.”” Beck was singled out once she voiced her concerns about workplace conditions. The National Labor Relations Act protects the right of workers like Beck to engage in that type of behavior, called “”concerted activity.””
In an unusual move, Wal-Mart settled the case, brought by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union on behalf of Beck. Beck has received back pay plus interest, totaling nearly $7,000. The decision to settle came as a surprise, as Wal-Mart historically has resisted settlements.
“”Wal-Mart knows what it did was wrong, and that is what they are paying for,”” says UFCW Executive Vice President Mike Leonard. “”Beck’s back pay is important because every lawyer who has battled against Wal-Mart knows that it hates to settle.””
In addition to paying Beck for lost wages, Wal-Mart is required to post a notice of the settlement in the East Colonial Drive store where Beck worked. The notice clearly states that Wal-Mart will not threaten associates, deny the right to organize, or engage in surveillance of workers, among other things. The notice is a major step in the efforts to inform Wal-Mart workers of their legal rights at work, and marks the second time that Wal-Mart has been directed to post such a notice in this store.
This posting lets workers know that Wal-Mart will not threaten associates who engage in “”concerted activity””, will permit associates to have a representative accompany them in any investigatory meetings where the associate believes discipline might result, won’t require associates to report their contacts with unions, and won’t discipline or fire workers who engage in concerted activity.
“”For years, Wal-Mart has tried to keep workers from knowing what their rights really are. Now, workers are finally getting the opportunity to find out what they can do at work,”” says Leonard.
Wal-Mart has also recently settled in another case in Villa Rica, Ga., in which the UFCW charged that Wal-Mart: threatened employees for union activity, spied on them, denied workers the right to solicit for the union on their own time, denied a co-worker witness at a disciplinary meeting, and disciplined a worker for asking for a witness. The company has agreed to display a notice in the Villa Rica Wal-Mart similar to that posted in the Orlando store. Specifically, this notice outlines federal laws protecting workers’ right to organize, as well as a statement that Wal-Mart will not discipline workers for exercising their rights.
A recent complaint issued by the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of Dana Maillioux, a Wal-Mart worker in Ft. Myers, Fla., also cites unlawful termination for “”concerted activity.”” While Wal-Mart has claimed to refrain from such tactics in stores where charges have been filed, the company continues to fire workers who discuss workplace conditions with their co-workers.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is North America’s largest organization of retail workers. With 1.4 million members in local stores and supermarkets across the United States, the UFCW is America’s Neighborhood Union. The UFCW remains committed to helping Wal-Mart workers have a voice on the job.
August 4, 2003
Nation’s Largest Private Sector Union to Host Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum on Health Care Reform
United Food And Commercial Workers International Union Convenes in San Francisco July 28 through August 1, 2003
More than 5,000 delegates, alternates and guests to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s (UFCW) Fifth Regular Convention will gather in San Francisco, California, July 28—August 1, 2003, to set a working family agenda for 2003 and beyond.
A highlight of the 1.4 million member union’s convention will a presidential candidates’ forum on health care reform at 2:30 P.M. on July 31, 2003 at the Moscone Center. Confirmed attendees include, Governor Howard Dean, Representative Richard Gephardt, Representative Dennis Kucinich, and Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun. Senator John Edwards, Senator Bob Graham, Senator John Kerry, Senator Joseph Lieberman, and Rev. Al Sharpton have been invited. Bill Press will moderate the discussion.
UFCW delegates, representing the United States and Canada, will address some of the most urgent economic and social issues including:
· The health care crisis in the U.S. and health care privatization in Canada;
· Wal-Mart’s war on North American workers;
· Organizing initiatives to give workers a free choice for a voice at work;
· Labor-management conflict on health benefits and pension programs; and
· The 2004 U.S. general election.
Delegates representing UFCW—America’s Neighborhood Union—members in grocery stores, food processing plants, nursing homes, hospitals, manufacturing plants and public service will meet from July 28-August 1, 2003 at the George R. Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. The UFCW is North America’s largest private sector union and has consistently grown with aggressive organizing in the growth sectors of the North American economy and workforce.
Featured speakers at the Convention include: San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (July 28), AFL-CIO President John Sweeney (July 29), Representative Loretta Sanchez (July 30) and, Erin Brockovich (July 31).
The general sessions of the UFCW are open to credentialed members of the press.