April, 2004

Safe Jobs are a Dying Breed Under Bush Administration

Today, we mourn for workers who needlessly lost their lives on the job this year. We also mourn for the loss of workplace protections and safety regulations killed by the anti-worker Bush Administration.

This is an administration that goes out of its way to hurt workers. President Bush’s first major legislative action upon taking office was to sign legislation repealing OSHA’s ergonomics standard. This important worker safeguard, issued in November 2000, was ten years in the making and would have prevented hundreds of thousands of workplace injuries a year.

Today we also honor the workers who have been killed and injured on the job and their families. Last week, a UFCW member—a young worker from Guatemala—was killed working in a poultry plant. Thousands of workers, particularly immigrant workers, risk serious and sometimes fatal injury at work in workplaces such as poultry and meatpacking plants. No worker should be forced to risk their life to put food on the table for America’s families.

The UFCW is encouraged by actions such as those by Senator Edward Kennedy who is working to strengthen worker safety by introducing a bill this week that will expand protections for workers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Senator Kennedy’s bill includes a mandate that employers pay for safety gear they require workers to wear. The Bush Administration has so far refused to complete and issue this standard. It will also strengthen penalties against employers who kill or seriously injure workers by willfully violating OSHA standards.

The Bush Administration has joined with business supporters to roll back, block, or stall needed worker protections. This Worker’s Memorial Day, the UFCW reiterates its commitment to electing a President that will put worker need before corporate greed.

Kroger Risks Revenue Hemorrhage With Attack On Worker Health Benefits

Workers In Houston, Cincinnati, Louisville, Las Vegas, Northern California, Denver, Seattle And Detroit Mobilize For Fight To Save Health Care

Kroger stockholders were recently stunned when the company forked over more than a $100 million to the supermarket operator’s leading competitors as a payoff from the more than 4 month long Southern California grocery strike. Waging war on workers’ health benefits doesn’t come cheaply, and the nation’s largest supermarket chain had to pay the bill after it agreed to cover its competitor’s losses when it joined with Safeway and Albertsons to take on 70,000 Southern California members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) in a fight over affordable health care.

Kroger did not limit its revenue loss to California. It also sent workers into the streets and its customers off to its competitors when it forced a strike over health benefits in West Virginia last year. Now, Kroger is risking a revenue hemorrhage as its short-sighted, benefit-busting demands could send tens of thousands of the company’s workers into the streets from Houston to Seattle, and from Cincinnati to Denver. The majority of Kroger’s revenue stream could dry up if the company fails to reach agreements that maintain affordable health care.

“”Kroger has consistently underestimated workers’ resolve in the fight for affordable health care. For the company health care benefits are a matter of dollars and cents, for workers health care benefits are a matter of life and death,”” said UFCW International Collective Bargaining Director Pat O’Neill.

In a nationwide effort, the UFCW International is systematically laying the groundwork in preparation for the possibility of multi-city strikes. From picket signs to community outreach, coordinated programs are being planned to mobilize support for affordable health care, as well as to assist the workers forced to strike to keep their health care.

While the details vary from city to city, the thrust of the company’s attack is to effectively eliminate affordable health care in the future. Houston is currently the hot spot for a potential strike. Company demands there would impose costs that would push health care out of reach for many workers, and could leave substantial number of workers without any coverage at all.

“”Kroger needs to make a commitment to maintaining affordable benefits. The workers have made record profits for the company. Some of those profits now should be used to maintain the workers’ benefits. Attempts to eliminate affordable health care will only lead to the elimination of profits, customers and market share. Workers will negotiate in good faith to keep the stores open and the customers served, but workers will fight for health care,”” stated O’Neill.

Wal-Mart Workers Want A Voice

A majority of workers at a Wal-Mart store in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada, signed membership cards for a voice on the job with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and have applied to Saskatchewan Labor Relations Board for certification with UFCW Local 1400. It is the second UFCW certification request for workers at Saskatchewan Wal-Mart in the last two months.

“The UFCW offers an alternative for Wal-Mart workers that means better wages, working conditions, and a voice on the job,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “More Wal-Mart workers, than ever before, are standing up, and they’re standing up with the UFCW.”

The giant retailer has a long history of reprehensible employment practices. The company is facing charges by women employees for sex discrimination that would be the largest class-action suit in US history. Wal-Mart has been found guilty of cheating workers out of their pay. Pending actions by workers, in numerous states, are raising similar charges, claiming Wal-Mart fails to pay them for all the time they work.

The company has shifted more jobs to countries where sweatshops are prevalent than any other corporation. It has a record of disregarding community wishes, bringing its vast resources into play in an attempt to muscle its stores into neighborhoods where community members have expressly told the company it was not welcome.

In light of growing global resistance to company practices, Wal-Mart launched a recent massive program, not to improve its practices, but to wage a PR campaign to improve its image.

Wherever Wal-Mart operates, workers want and need a voice to force the company to live up to the conditions it says it practices in its PR campaigns.

“The number of workers seeking a voice at Wal-Mart will grow throughout North America,” said Hansen. “The UFCW is an international union with a North American strategy. That strategy is long-term, committed, and getting stronger every day.”