September, 2003

Immigrant Workers Stand Up for a Voice on the Job

 On the eve of the historic national Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride arriving in Omaha, a group of 250 mostly immigrant workers at the Casa de Oro plant stood up for a voice on the job with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 271.  In an election Tuesday, September 23, 2003, workers voted overwhelmingly in favor of UFCW representation.
 “”Workers communicate in at least four languages—English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Bosnian—but spoke with one unified voice yesterday when they stood up for more secure benefits, improved safety at the plant, and the respect and dignity that come with union representation,”” said Donna McDonald, President of UFCW Local 271.
 Casa de Oro, owned by ConAgra, waged a strong anti-union campaign in an attempt to intimidate workers from standing up for the UFCW.  Workers overcame the fear tactics by connecting with UFCW Local 271 members from nearby meat packing plants meeting who met with workers in their homes to share their experiences.
 The UFCW Local 271 has worked closely with Omaha Together, One Community (OTOC) to build community support for worker organizing efforts—a partnership that has led to organization and a union contract to immigrant workers three Omaha area plants.
 UFCW contracts for immigrant workers have produced tangible improvements in workers’ lives including wage increases and affordable, family health insurance.  Union contracts also:
>  protect immigrant workers from unfair firings;
>  protect workers from discrimination based immigration status; and
>  provide workers with representation and impartial arbitration to protect their rights.
 The contracts also establish multi-cultural funds that provide resources for programs such as safety training in Spanish and English as a second language classes.
 The Casa de Oro workers with their union, UFCW Local 271, are looking forward to sitting down with management and working toward a contract as soon as possible.
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Wal-Mart Workers’ Right to Talk Union on Job Upheld By Judge

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.

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Read the ruling (pdf)