November, 2004

Food and Commercial Workers’ President Takes Action to Protect Colorado Supermarket Workers

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is taking action today to prevent three supermarket giants from forcing employees to give up their health benefit plan.  The loss of affordable health benefits could leave UFCW members and their families on the brink of economic crisis.  UFCW International President Joe Hansen announced today that he has permanently blocked the company proposals presented on November 1, 2004, from Safeway, King Soopers and Albertsons.  Hansen also issued an immediate call for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services to bring the parties back to negotiations and work toward the best possible contract for Colorado supermarket workers.

“We are in a new era of national bargaining with the three supermarket giants — Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons.  Our actions today are focused on one clear goal: protecting health benefits and securing the best possible contract for supermarket workers.  We are moving to put the collective bargaining process back on track to resolve this situation without sacrificing affordable health care,” said Hansen.

In a letter to UFCW Local 7 and the three supermarket companies, Hansen wrote: “I have now completed my review… and find that the proposals to end the jointly administered health and welfare plan…and the failure to cover additional stores…under the contract…could be injurious to our members.”

The companies’ proposal to move employees to a company-controlled health insurance plan would threaten affordable health care for tens of thousands of workers.

  • Under the employer proposed company insurance, new hires would see drastic cuts in coverage and current hourly supermarket workers would face escalating premiums that would make quality family health coverage unaffordable.
  • Historically, jointly-administered union and management health benefit trust funds have provided higher quality coverage for lower costs than if the employers purchased insurance on the open market.
  • The employer demands would force workers to abandon any sense of security or voice over their health benefits and puts all control over cost and coverage into the hands of the supermarket companies.
  • Employee pension coverage also risks serious cuts under the employers’ proposal.

“UFCW members have proven that we have the strength and determination to hold the line against employer attacks on health benefits and we will do so again if we must.  But, it is my obligation to make sure we have exhausted every possible option at the bargaining table and elsewhere before asking UFCW members to sacrifice on the picket line in order to protect affordable health care,” continued Hansen.

Further, the supermarkets’ demands to deny union representation to workers at new or expanded stores could leave hundreds of new supermarket employees in our communities without job security, workplace protections or a voice on the job.

Through the federal mediation and conciliation process, the UFCW International Union has been able to reach settlements across the country including ending the four and a half month long strike in Southern California.

The 1.4 million-member UFCW is America’s neighborhood union representing workers in neighborhood grocery stores across the country. UFCW puts dinner on the table for America’s families with members working in meatpacking and food processing. UFCW gives a voice to care with representation for nurses, medical technicians and nursing home workers.

Colorado Supermarket Contract Voting Halted

 
 UFCW International President
Joe Hansen

Joseph Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), exercised his authority under Article 23(A) of the International Constitution to halt voting on the offer presented on November 1, 2004, from Safeway, King Soopers and Alberstons to more than 13,000 UFCW members represented by Wheat Ridge, Co., Local 7.

Article 23 (A) of the International Constitution gives the International President the right to review any proposed contracts prior to any membership action on the proposal.  The purpose of Friday’s action is to give the International President the opportunity to assess the potential impact of proposed contract provisions on other UFCW members across the country and to see if they meet the established objectives relating to wages, benefits and working conditions. Following the International President’s review, he could either opt to restart or suspend (cancel) Colorado member voting on the existing proposal.  In the event that voting is restarted, ballots cast prior to Friday’s action would be counted.

“The supermarket chains bargaining with Local 7 in Colorado are large national corporations. Consequently, their proposals have national ramifications for our members,” said International President Joe Hansen. “I owe an obligation to all UFCW members working in the grocery industry to fully review the current proposal to determine whether or not it would be injurious to them.”

The UFCW International Union remains hopeful that ultimately an equitable solution can be reached between the parties.

Working America Turns Out For Change

Working America turned out in unprecedented numbers to support an agenda of change. Working families are demanding a different direction for the next four years, regardless of the final vote count. From better jobs to affordable family health care, a program for the economic rebuilding of working America— a working America that has suffered massive job loss, declining wages and the rapid erosion of affordable health insurance—now has the informed, mobilized and determined grassroots base to force its way onto the political agenda for the next four years.

“”We turned out on election day, and we will not be turned around. We activated an army of working families for this election, and we are now mobilized to fight for a program to rebuild working America,”” said Joe Hansen, president of the 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Hansen congratulated the hundreds of UFCW local unions for their tireless and relentless work to register and turnout hundreds of thousands of union members, many of whom were first time voters. The UFCW is one of the largest unions overall, and one of the largest unions of working women, in most of the battleground states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. The UFCW, the largest union of workers under age 25, also collaborated with Rock the Vote and other youth-oriented programs to help generate a record turnout of young voters.

The efforts of the UFCW and the labor movement produced results. According to early reports, union members made up a record-shattering percentage of the electorate and provided a solid foundation of voters for change. The turnout numbers indicate a growing demand among working families for government action to restore the economic standing of the working middle class.

Despite a growing economy and increased productivity, workers have seen the steady outsourcing of good jobs, the steady decline of real wages, and a steady increase in health care costs and the number of uninsured working families. The Bush Administration launched an unrelenting assault on workers from its first days in office with the repeal of the ergonomic standard in early 2001 to proposing to take away overtime pay for millions of workers in 2004. More and more workers slid into poverty over the past four years threatening the future of a working middle class America.

Hansen declared, “”Implementing a program to rebuild working America is fight for the heart and soul of our country—will we continue to be a nation were hard work brings dignity, respect and a decent standard of living; or, will we be a nation where the wealth concentrates at the top while the many who do the work fall farther and farther behind?””

The first agenda item in a program to rebuild working America, according to the UFCW leader, is health care reform. “”There is no greater threat to family economic and personal security than the loss of health insurance. Without decent health insurance, most working families are only illness away from an economic crisis that could shatter the family and dim its hopes for the future. Affordable, accessible, comprehensive health care for all working families is the foundation of restoring the working middle class.””

A rebuild working America program would, according to Hansen, also focus government investment to generate job growth, raise the minimum wage and restore workplace rights.

“”We don’t want big government, we want effective government that acts to raise living standards and provide economic opportunity for working Americans,”” Hansen said.