News and Updates
July 3, 2012
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
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.
|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
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
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
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.”
October 31, 2011
Applications are now open for the 2012 Union Plus Scholarship Program, which provides $150,000 in scholarships to union members, their spouses and dependents.
In addition to demonstrating academic ability, applicants are required to submit essays of no more than 500 words describing their career goals, detailing their relationship with the union movement and explaining why they are deserving of a union scholarship.
Individuals must be accepted into an accredited college or university, community college or recognized technical or trade school at the time the award is issued. Graduate school students are also eligible for Union Plus Scholarships. There is no requirement to have participated in any Union Plus program in order to apply.
Nearly 2,100 students in union families have received money for college through the Union Plus Scholarship Program. This year’s application is entirely online—allowing students to complete their application over time and save their responses. The application deadline is January 31, 2012. To apply, please visit www.UnionPlus.org/Education.
June 24, 2011
Right to Work Causing Controversy
Jun 21, 2011
Michigan avoided the kind of labor unrest they experienced in Wisconsin earlier this year, but one democratic leader predicts, if conservative republicans start to push right to work legislation, it will create a devastating fight between business and labor.
It drew national attention when organized labor fought the republicans in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights. The state democratic party chair predicts the same thing could happen here if conservative republicans push right to work in order to create more jobs, they claim.
Mark Brewer, State Democratic Chair: “It won’t create jobs. It will create the biggest multi-year devastating fight that will be all over the national news. Why would anyone want to invest here when we have that kind of fighting here in Michigan?”
Ironically the Republican governor agrees with the democratic party chair. Gov. Snyder says such a debate would be devastating, and while he would sign a right to work bill if it got to his desk, he says it is not one of his priorities. It is a high priority for one GOP conservative.
Rep. Marty Knollenberg, (R) Oakland County: “We’re not abolishing unions. We’re simply saying you should be forced to join a union. Once the public understands that, we’ll get greater buy in.”
Right to work legislation is getting a push from the tea party movement, which reports, in other states, it is working.
Tom Norton, pro-right to work: “These states are growing economically. The unemployment is low. The wages are a lot higher than Michigan.”
Ray Holman, UAW 6000: “We’re facing 70 bad bills that attack collective bargaining rights, and then to add this to the mix is just going to upset people, really.”
Which is what the governor wants to avoid here, but some conservatives say they will move on this later on nonetheless.
December 11, 2010
Food workers across the country are on the front lines of food safety. The work we do every day determines whether or not the country’s food supply will be safe. That is a responsibility we take seriously as UFCW stewards. The fact is, union plants are safer plants, and safer plants produce safer food. Having a voice on the job, and having stewards in the workplace, assures that we produce only the safest food.
Our union contract means we can speak out if we see something going wrong or jeopardizing food quality, without having to fear negative consequences – so only the highest quality food leaves our plants. It also means we can slow down the breakneck pace of production, and ensure proper staffing – factors that reduce on-the-job injuries and even further improve food safety. Workers who don’t have a union sadly do not have those same assurances.
“I see it as our duty to speak up if we see something going wrong in the plant. If we don’t make food safety our number one priority, everyone suffers. Bad food puts our families, and everyone’s families at risk. It also put our jobs on the line. If the public turns against our industry, it’s our jobs that get destroyed,” said Joel Elder, a UFCW Local 38 steward who has worked at ConAgra for 22 years.
It’s our responsibility as stewards to make sure that our coworkers feel comfortable enough at work to come forward and speak up if they see something unsafe going on. We must, above all, see to it that all of our brothers and sisters in the industry understand the high stakes of food safety and take seriously their active role in ensuring the quality of food we produce.
As stewards, as leaders, our responsibilities don’t end at the plant gates. The UFCW is leading our industry in pushing for food safety legislation at the federal level and at home in our states. We have to be active in that process so our lawmakers know we stand behind stronger food safety laws. Because we know that union plants produce safer food, we should also be involved in organizing more workplaces throughout our industry. The more food workers that come together in our union, the more power we can build at the bargaining table and the more leverage we will have to push for stronger food safety legislation. That will make food safer for all Americans. That’s something we can make happen by getting involved in organizing with our union.
“I’m proud to be part of a union that takes leadership in our industry, a union that looks out not only for those of us in the plant, but for everyone in our communities by making sure our food is safe,” said Elder. “One of the best ways I know to keep working to make our food even safer is to reach out to our colleagues in non-union plants and show them everything they have to gain by joining together with us in the UFCW.”
To learn more about how our union is working to ensure worker safety and food safety, visit www.FairnessForFoodWorkers.org.
April 28, 2010
UFCW, JBS get labor-management award, Business First, April 16, 2010
April 28, 2010
Outlook for chicken industry just keeps getting better, Meatingplace, April 19, 2010