November, 2005

UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS UNION URGES PRESIDENT TO ADD WORKER COMPONENT TO BIRD FLU PLAN

If a bird flu pandemic were to break out in the United States, workers in America’s poultry industry would be the first to notice sick birds, the first to risk exposure to the deadly virus, and the first to sound the alarm. That’s why the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has sent a letter to President Bush urging him to initiate coordinated protection for poultry workers on the front lines by initiating a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss worker issues and the potential pandemic.

The poultry industry is a major force in the U.S. economy, generating more than $35 billion per year in revenue. The nation’s 200,000 poultry workers produce 500 million pounds of chicken every week. We must have a plan to protect these workers-the chicken catchers and those that slaughter, process, and package the millions of chickens and turkeys that Americans eat each year.

The Bush administration has taken the first, important steps in containing a potential outbreak of bird flu by discussing and planning the control of the virus at its source-in animals.

However, if we are to avoid a pandemic, America’s plan to contain the bird flu must have a worker component. The Bush administration should consider:

–Direct contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces and objects is considered the main route of human infection. This kind of direct contact is the norm for workers in the poultry industry. A poultry worker immunization program will prevent the spread of the disease and assure the public that a meaningful step has been taken to contain the disease at its source.

–Poultry workers are in the best position to visually identify sick birds and report suspected cases of bird flu. These front line workers are the nation’s best defense against a pandemic, but they will need whistleblower protections in order to avoid discrimination and to assure that profit doesn’t override health and safety.

–Many immigrant, undocumented, or Spanish-speaking poultry workers are unaware of workplace safety regulations. This population is unlikely to ask for safety and health protections such as respirators or flu shots. Unfortunately, a recent sting operation where ICE agents posed as OSHA officials has hurt the credibility of government safety programs and further increased immigrants’ mistrust of government. We must reach out to these workers with health and safety information and we must strictly enforce a policy that prohibits sting operations that undermine OSHA credibility.

These worker issues are of paramount importance. Worker organizations, like unions, should be consulted and integrated into the effort. The UFCW stands ready to work with all interested stakeholders, including worker representatives, government agencies, and poultry companies.

NEWLY RELEASED PRICING STUDIES FIND WAL-MART CHARGING CUSTOMERS WRONG PRICE IN FOUR STATES

WakeUpWalMart.com Supporters to Distribute 1 Million ‘Wal-Mart Consumer Alert’ Flyers Beginning on ‘Black Friday’

Washington, D.C. – Today, WakeUpWalMart.com and the National Consumers League sent a joint letter to Attorneys General in all 50 states calling on them to launch a full-scale investigation into Wal-Mart’s pricing practices based on the findings of two newly released studies conducted by the University of Illinois-Chicago Center for Urban Economic Development and the University of California-Berkeley.

The two studies examined the pricing accuracy, the difference between the shelf-price and the cash register price, at Wal-Mart stores in California, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana and concluded the pricing errors at Wal-Mart stores in these 4 states failed to meet the federal standards set by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). The federal standard, set by the NIST, requires no more than 2 out 100 randomly selected items from any one store may be incorrectly priced.

The study found that almost 85% of the Wal-Mart stores in the IL, MI & IN study failed to meet the federal standard for pricing errors. In California, the results were worse with almost 87% of Wal-Mart stores failing to meet the federal standard for pricing accuracy.

In Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, Wal-Mart charged the wrong price for 6.4% of the items purchased statewide for the survey, and in California, 8.3% of the items purchased statewide.

“”Wal-Mart customers beware. Consumers shouldn’t have to gamble with the price they pay at Wal-Mart stores. Wal-Mart has been charging customers the wrong price by failing to meet the federal pricing standard in four of the largest states in the nation. Wal-Mart customers have a right to know whether or not they are paying the wrong price,”" said Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com.

In the letter to the Attorneys General, the National Consumers League and WakeUpWalMart.com suggest ways Wal-Mart could correct this potential pricing problem, including: requiring Wal-Mart to post notices at each register warning customers that they may be overcharged; requiring Wal-Mart to hire enough employees to accurately price merchandise; requiring each Wal-Mart store to hire an employee solely responsible to ensure accurate pricing; and require item pricing in its stores.

“”On behalf of all consumers, especially as we enter the Holiday shopping season, we are calling on every state to immediately investigate Wal-Mart’s pricing and scanner practices and to take appropriate action to fix this potential problem. At least in the four states studied, Wal-Mart may need to change its slogan to ‘Sometimes Low Prices’ if you are lucky,”" added Blank.

Both studies came to the following conclusion, “”A majority of Wal-Mart stores tested in this evaluation of price accuracy demonstrated errors in pricing that exceeded federally accepted standards for large retail establishments.”" In fact, 63% of the surveyed stores in California were exceeding the federal standard just based on their overcharging of customers. Furthermore, accounting for the margin of error, between 75% and 94% of Wal-Mart stores in the 3 Midwest states are failing to meet federal standards for price accuracy.

The results of the studies raise serious concerns nationally given Wal-Mart’s top-down, centralized control by its corporate headquarters in Bentonville, AR.

In addition to releasing the study, supporters of WakeUpWalMart.com, America’s largest grassroots campaign to change a corporation with over 130,000 supporters, will be mobilizing an unprecedented grassroots campaign to inform consumers about Wal-Mart’s pricing errors. Beginning on November 25th, the traditional kick-off to the Holiday shopping season, supporters will be taking part in a national consumer alert campaign with actions in 36 states and 102 cities. WakeUpWalMart.com plans to distribute more than 1 million ‘Wal-Mart Consumer Alert’ flyers and launch a multimedia effort to inform American consumers about the pricing errors found in these four states.

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Statement by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan:

“”I am very concerned about the scanning error rate for Wal-Mart as reported in the study by the University of Illinois at Chicago. My staff and I are taking a close look at these findings,”" said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “”As we enter the busiest shopping season of the year, this study is a glaring reminder that all consumers must pay close attention to the pricing screen at checkout. If you think you have been overcharged, you should complain immediately to store personnel. Consumers may also complain directly to my office at 1-800-243-0618.”"

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Statement by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

“”This data shows serious discrepancies between the prices posted and the amounts actually charged – meriting prompt investigation -because Wal-Mart has a legal obligation to be always accurate, not always low,”" Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. “”Nothing is more fundamental to fair pricing than keeping promises about prices. Consumers should be spared a sweepstakes system when they come to the cash register. They deserve reliable, rock-solid price guarantees. The price they are given should be the price they are charged.

“”I will take appropriate action to protect consumers and assure the integrity of Wal-Mart’s prices if my investigation uncovers unacceptable price inaccuracies in Connecticut.”"

WORKING FAMILIES JOIN NATIONAL MOVEMENT FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM

Union Members Join Citizens’ Health Care Working Group in First National Dialogue on Health Care in a Decade

(Washington, DC) Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) announced a national effort to engage its 1.4 million members in the first national dialogue on health care reform in a decade.  UFCW members are joining the Citizen’s Health Care Working Group by speaking up—online, at community meetings and in their workplaces—about the needs of working families in the health care system.

The Working Group, created by Congress in 2003, is mandated with engaging the public in a nationwide discussion of options for reforming America’s crumbling health care system.   To carry out that mission, citizens are encouraged to fill out an online survey and participate in a series of community meetings scheduled over the next several months in localities across the nation.

“Lawmakers and policy experts need to hear directly from working people and ordinary citizens about the reality of health care in their daily lives,” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President and member of the 14-person Working Group. “The Working Group’s most important task is to facilitate and encourage every American to take advantage of this unique opportunity to help lawmakers understand the views of ordinary people on how to make quality, accessible, and cost-efficient health care available to every American.”

As part of this initiative, the UFCW has launched a website:  www.ufcw4healthcare.orgfor its 1.4 million members to fill out the Citizens Health Care Working Group’s health care survey. The union is reaching out to other labor organizations to encourage participation by their members. And as meeting sites and dates are determined, the UFCW will mobilize UFCW members—including their friends and family—to attend the community meetings occurring in their areas.

UFCW members are acutely aware of the many problems with our current health care system.  Union members have been forced to organize community support, mobilize their workplaces and walk picket lines in order to fight back against employer demands to slash or reduce health care for workers and their families.  The national health care crisis cannot be solved at the bargaining table or on the picket line—it requires a national solution.  Now, union members are prepared to help shape that solution.

“Our members have first-hand knowledge of the pitfalls of our current health care system—whether soaring costs or access to quality care—and they have valid ideas for making the system work better for all Americans,” said Hansen. “We have every intention of ensuring that their concerns and ideas receive the full weight of their due in the final recommendations prepared by the Working Group.”

Hansen is the only representative on the fourteen-member The Citizen’s Health Care Working Group from a worker organization.