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August 2, 2012

ConAgra Foods Workers Choose a Union Voice on the Job with UFCW Local 455

July 27, 2012

UFCW Members Show Community Spirit in Rockmart, Georgia

UFCW/ICWUC Local 90-T in Rockmart, Georgia took time out this week to volunteer at their local Home Spun Festival – registering voters, giving away water bottles, and talking to friends and neighbors about what it means to have a union voice on the job.

The Home Spun festival is a tradition dating back 35 years in Rockmart, but this year marks Local -T’s first official involvement in the festival. The local staff and members in attendance were in agreement that it won’t be their last!

What a great way to spend the day – union brothers and sisters coming together for the good of the community to share information on voting and workplace rights. Do you have more stories about union members giving back in their communities? If so, send them along to submissions@ufcw.org and your story could be featured right here on the blog!

July 18, 2012

UFCW Members, Family Members Awarded Union Plus Scholarships

July 12, 2012

National Labor College Graduates the Class of 2012

Here on the blog, we like to recognize those who work hard and strive to help the cause of the working family.

Congratulations to the 78 newest graduates of the National Labor College Class of 2012!

The students graduated this past Saturday with Bachelors degrees, representing 25 unions across the nation including UFCW, as well as Working America, the AFL-CIO’s Community affiliate.
 
“Today, it is vitally important that we have NLC graduates with the skills necessary to put our members back to work and to effectively respond to the strident challenges we face to our basic right to bargain collectively,” said John Sweeney, President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO. “By balancing work, education, union roles, and family responsibilities, the graduates have achieved a tremendous accomplishment.”

Several students were highlighted for their outstanding contributions to the NLC community:

  • Helen Foreman-Hines of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was awarded the prestigious President’s Award.
  • Mark King, president of the student government association and member of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was elected by his fellow graduates as class speaker and received a distinguished paper award for his senior thesis.
  • Jon Leinbaugh of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA) and Joseph Walsh of the Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA) were awarded the 2012 Bert and Annabel Seidman Prize for Advancing Social Policy.
  • Trenton Reich of Working America and Paul Simon of the Electrical Workers (IBEW) received distinguished paper awards for their senior theses.


About National Labor College
Established as a training center by AFL-CIO in 1969 to strengthen union member education and organizing skills, today the NLC is the nation’s only accredited higher education institution devoted exclusively to educating union leaders, members and activists. Learn more at www.nlc.edu.
July 10, 2012

Decline in Working Class Jobs Hurts Our Kids

New research about the bifurcation of American society has produced some alarming information about the opportunity gap in our country.

Although there is of course inequality in the standards of living among America’s adults, the inequality in opportunity for our children is sometimes overlooked.  But it is a growing problem. According the the article from the NYTimes, in the decades to come, our country will be even more divided than it is now.  In decades past, kids of college-grads and high-school grads invested similarly in their children. Now, however, more affluent parents spend much more on their childrens’ futures, while the less affluent have decreased in those investments.

 Aside from money, the most important thing affluent parents are giving to their kids is time. In fact, affluent parents have quadrupled the amount of time they spend with their kids, whether it be at home, supporting them at a sporting event, or driving them to any plethora of extracurricular activities.  Meanwhile, high-school educated parents have increased child-care time, but only slightly. In the previous generation of families, things were opposite, and it was the working-class families who spent more time together. But now, the attention gap in the first three years of life for working-class family kids, when it is most important, is only growing.

Of course, the gap in the amount of money we spend on our kids is growing too. Affluent parents have increased the amount they spend on their kids enrichment activities by $5300 a year, whereas the financially stressed have only increased the amount they spend per year to $480.

Data taken in 1972 shows that kids from the bottom quartile of earners participated in about the same number of activities as the kids from the top quartile.  The facts today are starkly different.  Rich kids are now involved in twice as many activities as poorer kids, and twice as likely to excel in those activities.

This growing chasm among the classes is also causing the less fortunate children to become more pessimistic and detached. One researcher noted that “It’s perfectly understandable that kids from working-class backgrounds have become cynical and even paranoid, for virtually all our major social institutions have failed them — family, friends, church, school and community.” These kids are less likely to participate in voluntary service work that could provide them with a sense of purpose, they do worse in school, and their opportunities are limited.

A long series of cultural, economic and social trends have merged to create this sad state of affairs. Traditional social norms were abandoned, meaning more children are born out of wedlock. Their single parents simply have less time and resources to prepare them for a more competitive world. Working-class jobs were decimated, meaning that many parents are too stressed to have the energy, time or money to devote to their children. 
Affluent, intelligent people are now more likely to marry other energetic, intelligent people. They raise energetic, intelligent kids in self-segregated, cultural ghettoes where they know little about and have less influence upon people who do not share their blessings. 
The political system directs more money to health care for the elderly while spending on child welfare slides.
Equal opportunity, once core to the nation’s identity, is now a tertiary concern. America’s leaders need to change this, and take advantage of all of the human capital in our country rather than the most privileged two-thirds of it. Let’s focus on bringing back working class jobs so that our kids will have a bright future.
Click here to read the full article by David Brooks from NYTimes.com
July 3, 2012

Bird’s Eye Food Workers in Wis. Choose a Union Voice on the Job with Local 1473

Workers at a Bird’s Eye Food facility in Darien, Wis. have voted to join the UFCW. Both the full-time workers and the seasonal workers held elections and voted for a voice on the job with UFCW Local 1473.

The 30 workers decided to come together and work side-by-side to hold elections because they wanted to have a voice on the job. They also wanted workers to experience workplace equality in terms of wages, promotions, and hiring.

The employees work in the product quality assurance line of the facility. There, they check the bags of frozen vegetables and other products to make sure they are properly sealed and meet quality standards before leaving the facility.

June 21, 2012

Quaker Workers and UFCW Members Win Big in Powerball

This week, 20 UFCW/RWDSU Local 110 members who work as Quaker shipping employees in Cedar Rapids received some overwhelmingly good news- they had all won the lottery! The only winning ticket in the week’s Powerball lottery, the group will split a whopping $242 million prize, the 15th largest in Powerball history; the biggest in Iowa’s. Since the group opted for the lump sum, they will each receive $5.6 million, after taxes.

Workers from the Quaker Oats plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, react as their winning $241 million Powerball ticket is scanned at the Iowa Lottery headquarters, Wednesday, June 20, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa. Lottery spokeswoman Mary Neubauer says one of the workers bought the winning ticket for the group for the June 13 drawing and the winnings will be split 20 ways. Photo: AP / AP
photo credit: chron.com

The ‘Shipping 20,’ as they’re calling themselves, proudly donned their union shirts to present their winning ticket.

This spot of good luck for the winning workers is nice to hear in times where many are enduring economic hardship. We hope these winnings ease any hard times for these employees, and provide motivation for other workers to stick together when things get tough, whether its to fight for workers’ rights and families, or to win the jackpot. 

June 18, 2012

UFCW Voices: Phil Meza a.k.a. “Mr. Picketman”

Local 1428 member Phil Meza has become somewhat of a celebrity among our UFCW family.  He has contributed not only his time and effort in the fight for working families, but also his voice and musical talents.

For those of you who don’t know Phil, “Mr. Picketman” was a name given to him during a rally one day, after he scrawled out a song on the back of his picket sign – a song he would soon lead the crowd in singing.  Music has been a lifetime hobby for Picketman, but, throughout his 20 years as a union member and Albertson’s employee in Southern California (where he served as a department manager for years, and then as a front end service supervisor) he’s developed ideas for songs that he could use to help further the fight to protect working families.

On what the union means to him, and how it has prompted his songs, Mr Picketman has this to say:

“Over the years, working at Albertson’s and being able to negotiate contracts and the conditions in which we work under, its been a positive experience.”

Mr. Picketman has been a union member ever since he began working at Alberston’s, but says that he became much more involved within the union during the 2003-2004 Southern California strike:

That’s when I learned how to stand up for what I believe in.”

After returning from the strike, Mr. Picketman became a steward within his store, as well as Local 1428 executive board member. Phil wrote several songs about the strike, and from there, the music sort of “just took on a life of its own.”  His songs got out to all sorts of people all over the country and Phil then began receiving calls from people wondering if he could tailor songs to various causes.  Phil helped out a few of these callers, but found that nothing resonated with him as much as the union related songs he had created from the heart, and from his own experiences.

After making the first song for the union, about pro-worker type stuff, its just become an even bigger hobby of mine.”

Phil soon gained more popularity with the creation of an Obama-themed song, during the 2008 election. Of course, he says, he has a 2012 re-election song in the works too.  His recent work includes two songs with OUR Walmart, inspired by his work as a member organizer on the Making Change at Walmart campaign. He has also been contacted by a Local 8 member for help making a song related to the ongoing negotiations with Raley’s in northern California.

“I love being part of organizing and helping membership within UFCW grow.  I know that if we can rebuild union membership we can rebuild the middle class and the economy. Definitely having the experience of helping the union, helping others achieve a voice in their workplace has really been the most rewarding experience. And as for working on the OUR Walmart campaign, being able to talk to the workers who don’t have some of the benefits and privileges that we have as union members.”

One of Picketman’s recent songs, about the situation in Wisconsin and Scott Walker’s agenda to take away  collective bargaining, is a rousing hip-hop style anthem that calls on workers to “build our communities to save our jobs”, and to “stand up, get up, we gotta keep our head up.” The song, entitled “Fight On” has a motivating and catchy chorus that begins: “Anything in life that’s worth having is worth fighting for.”  Picketman’s musical style is one that many of our young members are sure to be drawn to, yet members of all ages can appreciate the message in each song, and the vigor with which he sings them.

The following YouTube video provides a slideshow of pictures capturing scenes from the Wisconsin protests for a re-election, set to “Fight On.”

Click here to download another catchy beat from Mr. Picketman.

February 11, 2012

Globalization Brings New Challenges to Meat Workers All Over the World

 

Early in November of 2011, the UFCW hosted the IUF Global Meat Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. The IUF is a global union of meat and food workers

The global meat market is an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and it is currently dominated by a few companies whose power and reach are growing year after year. With the consolidation of these companies, workers in meat plants face both local and global challenges. We are all familiar with local challenges: inadequate crewing at higher line speeds, disregard for ergonomics and safety, improper handling of hazardous materials like ammonia, wage and benefits cuts, etc.

Globalization brings its own set of challenges. As companies compete in global markets, they devise new systems and strategies to increase profits and reduce costs. These systems are often designed in corporate offices, far away from the plants. Engineers arrive at plants with blueprints and equipment; they install new machines and systems, but their involvement stops once the installation is done.

“Come Friday at 3:30 in the afternoon, these engineers are gone,” says Dan Riesner, a UFCW steward from Local 222 who works a combined job at the Gelita plant in Iowa. “When management comes back and does its inspection tour on Monday morning, they see that things are working, but they don’t really understand the amount of effort and the number of people it took to keep things running during the weekend, once the engineers left. There is no support and no follow-through. They leave us holding the bag and these changes have a very negative effect on job performance.”

Unionized workers in the U.S. have the protection of good contracts and government agencies such as the NLRB, but workers in other countries have to deal with indifferent governments and abusive managers. When global companies promote these managers and relocate them for new positions in the U.S., our rights are in jeopardy. These managers are used to abusing workers and ignoring safety concerns. Not only that, they are used to getting away with it. So once they are relocated to our plants, they will try to impose their practices on our brothers and sisters.

But in a global market information and opportunities flow both ways. As Dan explains, “when workers from other countries reach our plants, we have the opportunity to educate them and share the values of our own labor movement. Once they experience the difference in working conditions in our plants, we should encourage them to share with their own families abroad. If companies are going to import their abusive practices, we should be able to export our values.”

January 31, 2012

Our Companies are Global – Unions Must Act Globally

 

Early in November of 2011, the UFCW hosted a Global Meat Conference for meat packing workers from all over the world in Omaha, Nebraska. The two-day conference focused on the challenges workers face with the growth and consolidation of international meat companies like JBS and Cargill.

Thanks to consolidation and globalization, just a handful of companies dominate this billion dollar industry, and their power is growing year after year. That means challenges for workers who want to share in the success of their companies – whether those workers are in the U.S., Brazil, Japan or any other country.

Meat packing and food processing workers face the same basic challenges all over the world: inadequate crewing, disregard for ergonomics and safety, improper handling of hazardous materials like ammonia, downward pressure on wages and benefits, and a lack of dignity on the job.

Unfortunately, globalization and consolidation don’t necessarily raise standards for workers – the opposite is often true. For instance, at the Global Meat Conference, workers from all over the world met each other to speak and compare working conditions. They discovered that although they may share the same employer or parent company, their working conditions could be markedly different. For instance, workers from the U.S. or Australia may have strong union contracts, but workers in other countries are systematically denied bathroom breaks, or forced to work for weeks without a day off. They also learned that companies in every corner of the globe work to systematically deny workers who want a voice on the job from joining together with their co-workers in a union.

If companies like JBS, Tyson, and Cargill are global in their scope, our union must act globally, too. That is why UFCW members are communicating and coordinating with workers who belong to other meat packing unions around the world. We are routinely meeting; sharing information and developments; and coordinating on contract language that prevents exploitative or dangerous practices. These are effective ways to build the power that lets us negotiate better contracts and raise the working and living standards for everyone who works in this industry – both in the U.S. and abroad.

Dan Riesner is a UFCW steward from Local 222 in Iowa who works at the Gelita plant in Sergeant Bluff. He is tasked with the maceration of beef bones in acid, and assigned to the operation of a wash tank. The experience meeting workers in his industry from all over the globe really drove home to him how important it is for workers to band together, even across international borders.

“By sharing information with each other, union workers can learn about strategies and tactics that are effective in pressuring companies to come to the table and agree to fair, respectful working conditions,” Riesner said.

“It’s been a real eye-opener. Our strong union contracts mean we have it pretty good here in the U.S., comparatively, but we can’t take it for granted. If we don’t want consolidation and globalization to bite us – we need to kick up our efforts to organize and to stick together when we bargain.”