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May 31, 2007

Gerald Robert Menapace, former UFCW International Secretary-Treasurer, Passes Away

Gerald Robert “”Jerry”” Menapace, who rose from a production worker at the hog slaughter at Goetz Packing in Baltimore, Md., to the second highest office of the United Food and Commerical Workers International Union, passed away at his home on Sunday, May 27, from a heart attack.

“”The UFCW family is deeply saddened by the passing of Jerry Menapace. He was a friend and leader whose commitment to working people improved the lives of tens of thousands of working families. He was an inspiration to all of us,”” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen.

Menapace’s father, uncles, and grandfathers were all active in the United Mine Workers of America. When he was 20, Menapace joined Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen Local 149 (Now UFCW Local 27). Within two years, he became a union activist first serving as a local union representative, and later rising to the presidency of his local union. In 1974, he was elected an International Vice President of the Meat Cutters.

After the 1979 merger with the Retail Clerks International Union that formed the UFCW, Menapace became a UFCW International Vice President. In 1982, he became special assistant to the International President. He was named director of the Retail Division in 1984, and elected International Secretary-Treasurer in 1986 and re-elected in 1988.

Menapace’s leadership reflected his lifelong commitment to workers. Throughout his career he was an active champion for civil rights and social justice, deeply committed to the struggle for racial equality in Baltimore and in the entire U.S. He was a lifelong member of the NAACP.

He never forgot his commitment to workers, reminding people often that, “”the union exists solely for the benefit of members. Officers come and go. People live and die. The union goes on forever.””

Menapace was a native of Atlas, Pa., and graduated from public schools in his hometown. He spent four years in the Navy, serving in Africa during the Korean War as a radio operator. He completed a two-year program in labor relations at Harvard University.

Menapace is survived by his wife, Jeanne Dawson and six sons—David Menapace of Waynesboro, Pa., Danny Menapace of Cumberland, Martin Menapace of Hapeville, Ga., Douglass Menapace of Phoenix, Md., Jeffrey Menapace of Hawthorne, N.J., and Steven Menapace of Bel Air; two daughters, Kathleen Menapace of Baltimore and Elizabeth Stewart of Huntington, W. Va.; a brother Robert Menapace of Northumberland, Pa.; a sister, Jacqueline Bolger of Roslyn, Pa., 17 grandchildren, and two great-granddaughters.

May 30, 2007

MEATPACKING WORKERS STAND UP FOR A VOICE ON THE JOB

(Windom, Minn.) – Meatpacking workers at PM Beef stood strong against employer intimidation to vote in favor of representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1161 on Friday, May 25, 2007.   The 500 PM Beef workers, who work in a full-scale cattle slaughtering and processing plant, sought out a voice on the job to address basic worker needs on the job – protection from dangerously fast line speeds and access to bathroom breaks.

“The PM beef workers fought hard for the opportunity to have a voice on the job.  Their victory is significant considering how difficult it is for workers to organize in the face of employer intimidation,” said Kevin Williamson, UFCW International Vice President and Director, Region 6.

The majority Latino workforce withstood a heavy-handed anti-worker campaign by the company.  Using hired gun lawyers, PM Beef pulled workers from the processing line to hold mandatory meetings with supervisors.  Workers were subjected to one-on-one meetings with plant management for a month leading up to the election date.

According to American Rights at Work, more than 78 percent of workers face these kinds of captive audience meetings when organizing a union.  Employers like PM Beef use the forced meetings to question workers about how they plan to vote, spread misinformation about the union and make workers fearful for speaking out in support of union representation.

What are rarely addressed in captive audience meetings are real solutions to the problems that inspired workers to organize.  At PM Beef, that included the company’s policy of requiring workers to pay for their own knives when one broke or became unusable on the line.

“Workers withstood one-on-one meetings with bosses to maintain their solidarity and courage to vote together for UFCW representation,” said Williamson.  “Their successful campaign will inspire other area meatpacking and other processing workers to stand up for respect and dignity on the job.”

The UFCW represents more than 250,000 workers in the meatpacking, poultry and food processing industries and has been on the frontlines of advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform (www.ufcw.org/issues/immigration).

May 25, 2007

KROGER WORKERS IN HOUSTON SHOW STRENGTH AND SOLIDARITY THOUGH STRIKE VOTE

Washington, DC—Grocery workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) are fighting back against the Kroger Company’s nineteenth century bargaining tactics. Kroger seems to be operating under that century’s model of “robber baron bargaining”—pushing workers to the brink and forcing strikes, all to justify greedy demands at the bargaining table and in the community.

In Houston, where 12,700 workers are involved in negotiations with Kroger, UFCW members turned out in droves to vote by over 97% to authorize a strike against the supermarket company.

“There’s no excuse for Kroger’s behavior,” said Pat O’Neill, UFCW Executive Vice President and Director of Collective Bargaining.  “By beating on their own workers, Kroger is hurting morale in the stores, and customers are changing their shopping habits in an attempt to avoid a crisis at their grocery store. Ultimately, it accomplishes little for either side at the table.”

It’s time to put an end to this kind of “crisis bargaining” where a profitable company like Kroger comes to the table making outrageous demands of its hourly workers–threatening to chronically underfund health care and risk huge benefit cuts for workers.

UFCW members understand that the rising cost of health care in the U.S. is a crisis we all must face together. In previous contracts, Houston members have worked diligently to lower health care costs. Workers are picking up their share. Their hard work has made Kroger the hugely profitable chain it is today.

But Kroger’s greed just keeps increasing.  The company seems intent on driving workers to the brink of a strike, and threatening to disrupt tens of thousands of consumers in an attempt to extract even more from its workforce.

Kroger can’t have it both ways.  CEO David Dillon crows to investors and the public that when Wal-Mart expands its operations, Kroger gains market share, increases sales and boosts profits. There’s no excuse, then, to claim that competition from the low-wage, no-benefit Wal-Mart should require workers to strike in order to save affordable health care.

In Southern California, Seattle, Oregon, Montana, Illinois, Detroit, Toledo, and St Louis, UFCW members working in the grocery industry are also in tough negotiations with mammoth employers like Kroger and Supervalu.  Members throughout the country are unified in a nationwide movement to improve jobs in the grocery industry for workers, families, and communities.

For more on UFCW negotiations across the country, please visit the Grocery Workers United website at www.groceryworkersunited.org.

May 24, 2007

Guestworker Undermines Fundamental American Values

Washington, D.C.—””The sad fact is that our nation is currently incapable of enforcing our country’s most basic labor laws and workplace protections. To suggest that a new guestworker program can be constructed with adequate workplace protections is disingenuous,”” said United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) International Vice President Michael Wilson in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.

“”The core issue is a failed immigration system that compounds its failure by victimizing workers,”” said Wilson, who is Director of the UFCW Legislative and Political Action Department. “”Our country’s archaic immigration policy—incapable of dealing with 21st century immigration patterns and economic realities—is undermining the very ideals and values our country was built on, and serving neither business nor workers.””

Immigrants and native-born American workers in underpaid economic sectors are experiencing workplace abuse, wage erosion and deteriorating working conditions. Meanwhile, immigration enforcement measures that consist of raiding workplaces, breaking up families, and devastating communities offer no sensible remedy to this situation and are antithetical to fundamental American values.

The guestworker programs are not the solution and would allow employers to turn permanent, full-time, family-supporting jobs into temporary, go-nowhere jobs that exploit immigrants and native-born workers alike.

“”Before we enact any new Guestworker program,”” continued Wilson, “”Congress should begin with making sure that the basic workplace protections already on the books are enforced. Guestworker creates a culture in which people believe that a person’s race, color, or national origin relegates them to a life of low-paying, no-future jobs. It also discourages domestic workers from those lines of work, segregating the workforce. Finally, when guestworkers choose to exert workplace rights—the right to a safe and healthy workplace or the right to form a union—they risk losing their jobs or being deported. In effect, this amounts to compulsory consent to abuse and exploitation, and lowers working standards for all working people.””

The UFCW is committed to working with all members of Congress on achieving meaningful immigration reform that is consistent with fundamental American values, protects all workers, provides immigrants an opportunity to fully participate in the democratic system and achieve the American dream.

May 23, 2007

Statement of Joseph T. Hansen, International President, UFCW International Union on Health Care Reform

Statement of Joseph T. Hansen, UFCW International President,
Excerpted from Remarks Presented to the
International Foundation’s 2007 Washington Legislative Update session on the “”Value of the Employment-Based Health Care System-Is It Worth Saving?””

Washington DC–Fixing our health care system is going to require us to come together—and act together—all across the country. In listening to the needs and concerns of Americans from every walk of life and every area of the country—as I did as part of the congressionally mandated Citizens Health Care Working Group—one thing became clear to me that we should always remember: First—“do no harm”.

“Do no harm” should be the central rule and guiding principle of the current health care reform debate. Unfortunately, “do no harm” seems to have been lost in the rush to pronounce the current employment-based system dead, and that creates the risk of misdiagnosing the problem and writing flawed prescriptions for the future.

The starting point too frequently in this debate is the presumed death of the employment-based system. But the fact is employer-sponsored health benefits remain the mainstay of health care for the overwhelming number of working Americans. Almost two-thirds of American workers get health care at work—about the same today as almost 2 decades ago.

The employment-based system has remained remarkably stable and resilient—particularly when you consider the rapidly increasing costs and the explosion of new technology over the past 20 years:

  • The percentage of workers employed in workplaces offering health insurance is at about 81%—only a modest decline from the levels of the late 1980s.
  • The percentage of workers choosing to take employer-provided insurance is at about 84% —only a slight decrease from the 1980s.

We cannot just abandon the current system. Everyday, those of us working in the employment-based system confront the challenge of providing health care for millions of workers. The harm done in declaring the system dead is that it becomes an excuse for too many employers to evade their responsibility to provide health care—and, becomes an easy way for those employers to avoid the public opinion consequences of that irresponsibility.

We are not proposing that we stand still, or that we should preserve the past.  We must have a positive program of reform—a reform program that addresses the real issues in our current health care system.

We are spending too much and getting too little for it. On key measures of health care outcomes—preventable deaths, longevity, and infant mortality—the U.S. falls behind most advanced nations. The U.S. preventable death rate is 30 percent higher than those of France, Japan, and Spain. For both total costs and administrative costs, the U.S. exceeds almost all advanced countries in the world.

Our current system does not work at the most fundamental level—it does not prevent preventable death—despite how much money we spend.

Reform must focus on outcomes, and the central question is—how do we improve outcomes?

Our health care system currently focuses on the wrong issues, focusing resources more on reacting to diseases rather than in promoting healthy lives. We have to think differently about care. We have to think about funding for healthy diet planning as well as caring for those afflicted with diabetes. We must have benefit packages that promote health and promote effective management of chronic conditions.

We must reform and restructure the insurance market. Private insurance companies are at the center of the current system—and find themselves often in conflicting roles among providers, beneficiaries, employers and government. The conflicting relationships do not necessarily get resolved in the best interest of health care—but, only in the best interest of the insurance industry. Reform must focus on care quality, fairness, access, affordability and shared risk.

We need a different starting point for the health care reform debate. It is not whether or not the employment-based system is dead. The reform discussion should start with the question of improving outcomes. We should determine the best method to promote better outcomes. And, we should make the system accessible, fair and affordable for all.

Current reform proposals do not fully deliver on the principles I think most Americans believe in. More than 30,000 engaged in a national dialogue under the auspices of the Citizens Health Care Working Group to set out a set of principles to reform our system. Those principles focus on universal participation—with access to quality care without regard to financial ability or health status. Americans believe this as a core value of our country. Americans do not see health care as a consumer commodity. They see it as an essential part of our national community, and that we all share in it and we all take responsibility for it.

Can the employment-based system be used as a platform for reform? Yes, but we cannot have an employment-based system where some employers can choose not to participate; we must set universal standards of coverage, care quality and affordability across all employers; and we must redesign the benefit package to focus on promoting health and care management.

Is the employment-based model the only model that can work for reform? No, it is possible to move to a universal Medicare system with a re-designed benefit package focused on promoting health and care management.

Whether the employment-based system is worth saving is a question for the American people. In the meantime, until we move forward to put comprehensive health care reform in place, we must do no harm.

CLICK HERE for full remarks.

May 18, 2007

El acuerdo de reforma migratoria lastima los trabajadores y no cumple los valores estadounidenses

Washington, D.C.—La Unión de Trabajadores y de Alimentos (UFCW) está comprometida a cooperar con todos los miembros del Congreso para lograr una reforma migratoria significativa que cumple los valores fundamentales estadounidenses, protege todos los trabajadores, y provee una oportunidad a los inmigrantes a participar completamente en un sistema demócrata para que puedan realizar el Sueño Americano. 

Mientras el acuerdo que fue anunciado ayer crea una apertura para formar una legislación significativa, le falta mucho para llegar a ser una reforma integral.

Demasiados aspectos del acuerdo no cumplen los principios fundamentales estadounidenses de la democracia y la equidad. 

Nosotros somos una nación de inclusión—un plan de trabajadores temporales sólo convertiría trabajos que son permanentes en trabajos temporales, crearía un subclase de trabajadores explotados y resultaría en estándares laborales más bajos para todos los trabajadores.

Nosotros somos una nación que aprecia las familias—la creación de un sistema de puntos no sólo mantendría familias separadas y favorecía ciertas familias más que otras, también socavaría la estabilidad comunitaria y la idea más básica de la justicia. 

Nosotros somos una nación de oportunidad—la creación de un sistema que favorece una clase de trabajadores más que otra cerraría la puerta al Sueño Americano para millones de inmigrantes que, aunque trabajan duro, tienen niveles educativos y profesionales más bajos.

Cualquier tipo de legislación que se desvía de estos valores fundamentales sólo exacerbará los problemas de nuestro sistema migratorio actual.

May 18, 2007

Immigration Deal Hurts Workers and Fails to Live Up to American Value

Washington DC—The UFCW is committed to working with all members of Congress on achieving meaningful immigration reform that is consistent with fundamental American values, protects all workers, provides immigrants an opportunity to fully participate in our democratic system and achieve the American dream.

While today’s deal reached on immigration provides an opening for comprehensive legislation on this critical issue, it has a long way to go before it can provide meaningful reform.

Too many aspects of the deal fail to live up to fundamental American principles of democracy and fairness.

We are a nation of inclusion—guestworker programs would only turn permanent jobs into temporary ones, create an underclass of exploited workers, and lower workplace standards for all workers.

We are a nation that values families—to create a point-system that would keep families apart or favor one family ahead of others undermines basic fairness and community stability.

We are a nation of opportunity—to create a system that favors one class of workers ahead of other workers closes the door to the American dream for millions of hard-working but less-skilled immigrants.

Any legislation that departs from these fundamental values will only exacerbate the systemic problems of our current immigration system.

May 17, 2007

Grocery Coalition Launches Door-to-Door Campaign, Seeks


Coalition Asks Consumers to Support Good Jobs by Pledging Not To Shop
At Albertsons, Ralphs or Vons in Case of a Strike or Lockout

Los Angeles—Community and religious leaders today joined more than 100  grocery workers and union members in launching the “Walk for Respect” campaign, a massive public outreach effort designed to help restore good jobs among the supermarket industry’s top three chains.

In the coming weeks, thousands of volunteers across Southern California will blanket neighborhoods around stores with pledge cards asking consumers not to shop at Ralphs, Vons or Albertsons stores in the case of a lockout or strike. The program will continue until the three chains agree to once again provide decent wages and affordable health insurance to their employees.

Grocery workers at Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons stores are currently locked in contract negotiations for the first time since the bitter four-and-a-half-month strike and lockout in 2003-2004. That contract expired March 5, and the stores have dragged out negotiations with a series of extensions in a bid to get further concessions from employees, despite record profits and declining non-union competition.

“Grocery workers haven’t had a wage increase since 2002, yet the markets are making billions in profits,” said Chris Zazueta, a veteran employee of Ralphs.  “New workers have to wait up to 18 months to even become eligible for benefits, and 30 months to get health care for their kids. No wonder turnover among new employees is as high as 85%.”

As community leaders, supporters and members from numerous Los Angeles labor unions gathered for a rally in front of an Albertsons store in Burbank, the frustrations with the stores’ tactics and the effects on workers and local communities became clear.

“Grocery workers have historically been pillars of communities across Southern California. For decades, the supermarkets provided jobs with decent wages and health benefits, located directly within our neighborhoods,” said Reverend Anna Olson, Deputy Director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE). “But times have changed. Now the markets are in a race to the bottom, undermining good jobs and our communities in the process.”

The contract imposed on workers following the lockout and strike severely curtailed benefits and wages for new employees, and denied any wage increases to veteran workers.

“The erosion of middle-class jobs impacts all of us,” said Rabbi Haim Beliak of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace. “Our communities don’t need more people living one paycheck from the edge. We don’t need more uninsured families forced into emergency rooms and free clinics. The markets are making record profits. It is time for them to give back to the communities that make their success possible, or the communities must withhold their support.”

Of the 44,000 workers hired since 2004, less than 3,800 have health care, and less than 80 have coverage for their children.

A recent UC Berkeley study estimated that 20,000 fewer children have access to health care because of the changes since the strike and lockout.

“Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons need to understand they are part of our community,” said Manuel Hernandez, a community organizer with AGENDA. “They need to act like a good corporate citizen. That means providing fair wages and healthcare for their employees. They can afford it, and it’s the right thing to do. We need more good jobs in our neighborhoods.”

Immediately after the rally, volunteers walked door to door in the surrounding neighborhoods and stood in front of the store to gather pledges from consumers not to shop at Ralphs, Vons or Albertsons in the event of a lockout or strike.

The Walk for Respect program launched simultaneously across Southern California, with volunteers walking in communities from Bakersfield to the Mexican border.

“We’ll keep this up until we the stores begin to treat us and our communities with respect,” said Sharlette Villacorta, a longtime Albertsons employee on leave to work on the contract campaign. “The employers are making billions because of our hard work. They need to do their fair share and provide good, middle class jobs that nourish our communities.”

May 11, 2007

UFCW SUPPORTS KEY BANKING SENATE BILL

Washington, D.C.—The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union is proud to announce its support for the bi-partisan legislation bill being introduced in the Senate today which will strengthen the regulation of industrial loan companies (ILCs).  Introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Wayne Allard (R-CO), this important legislation is a real reform to address the huge growth of ILCs and the threat they pose to the safety and soundness of the U.S. financial system when these institutions are controlled by commercial entities.

 Michael J. Wilson, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the Legislative and Political Action Department, left, with Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO), William A. Loving, CEO of Pendelton Community Bank, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

ILCs, which exist because of a loophole in the Bank Holding Act, are regulated differently from banks.  A growing number of ILCs are owned by commercial entities, which unlike banks, are not subject to consolidated oversight by the Federal Reserve Board.  This represents a perilous break from our nation’s long-standing practice of separating banking and commerce.  The Brown/Allard bill will strengthen the regulation of ILCs and protect the foundation of the American banking process by placing crucial limitation on certain existing ILCs and prohibiting the creation of new commercially-owned banks.

“We need to close the loophole to end the threat it presents to the security of the U.S. financial system,” said UFCW International Vice President and Director of the UFCW Legislative and Political Action Department Michael J. Wilson.  “Federal legislation is the only appropriate response for the construction of a sound banking policy.  The ILC loophole must be closed in order to strengthen consumer protections and prevent companies like Wal-Mart from entering the banking industry.”

The UFCW also strongly supports the House companion bill, H.R. 698, the Industrial Bank Holding Company Act of 2007, which recently was approved by the House Financial Services Committee.

The UFCW is a founding member of the Sound Banking Coalition which has fought to protect the financial security of working people.  The Sound Banking Coalition is made up of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), the National Grocers Association (NGA), the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), and the UFCW.

May 10, 2007

Statement by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union On Grocery Bargaining in Southern California

After seven months of unproductive negotiations with grocery employers, UFCW Southern California local unions left the bargaining table on Tuesday. The latest offer by the three grocery companies, Safeway, Kroger and Supervalu, was an insult to members, and left UFCW leadership with no choice but to break off negotiations.

The companies are trying to force another strike, like the work stoppage they caused in 2003 that put 60,000 UFCW members on picket lines for nearly five months and disrupted shoppers and communities throughout the region.

The three grocery giants have repeatedly denied members’ need for accessible, affordable health care, and living wages for all workers.  This despite the fact that all three companies have shown a recent rise in profits that analysts predict will continue to grow.

It would appear that Safeway CEO Steve Burd knows that workers need affordable, quality health care for themselves and their families.  That’s why he announced earlier this week that Safeway and nearly 40 other companies were launching the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform (CAHR).  The UFCW applauds Burd and other CAHR participants as welcome voices to this important discussion.  We wish that all three grocery leaders would bring this commitment to the bargaining table.

UFCW members will be reaching out to consumers in Southern California and across the country to remind the grocery giants that their success is due to workers and shoppers, and that they need to show concern for their community and workers by reaching a fair agreement with Southern California workers.

Two grocery companies in Southern California, Stater Bros. and Gelson’s, settled fair contracts with UFCW members that included quality, affordable health care and living wages for all workers. That two regional supermarket chains can afford to offer their workers a fair contract proves that it’s possible to be profitable while still showing your workers respect.

If these regional markets can offer a fair contract, then surely Supervalu, Kroger, and Safeway — national supermarket chains that are currently raking in billions of dollars in profits — can do the same.

Southern California’s grocery workers, together with Stater Bros. and Gelson’s Markets, created a road map to a fair contract, a map that can be followed by the national chains. But instead of doing the right thing and partnering with the workers who helped them return to profitability, these national companies dragged out negotiations in an effort to keep their workers’ wages low and benefits out of reach for workers and families.

Southern California’s grocery workers are unified, and UFCW-represented grocery workers across the country are supporting them as well. But it’s time to end this drawn-out, dead-end negotiations process. With the support of the public, UFCW members can and will win a fair contract — even if means a long, difficult battle.