March, 2008

UFCW Members in Baltimore-Washington Reach Tentative Agreement with Grocers

Early this morning, over 25,000 grocery workers in the Baltimore-Washington area represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) reached a tentative agreement with Ahold operated Giant Foods and Safeway.

Workers will vote on whether to ratify the agreement on Tuesday, April 1st.

The members of Baltimore-Washington area UFCW Local Unions 27 and 400 had the support of community and religious leaders, shoppers, sister unions and UFCW members nationwide in their effort to maintain affordable health care coverage and fair wages.

The coordinated effort in Baltimore-Washington is part of a UFCW nationwide unity bargaining program. By supporting each other regionally and nationally, as well as engaging customers and community members in their struggle, grocery workers are improving grocery industry jobs for themselves and their communities.

To learn more about other bargaining campaigns, go to: www.groceryworkersunited.org.

SUPERMARKET WORKERS NATIONWIDE MOBILIZE FOR GOOD JOBS AND AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — Grocery workers are standing up to protect good jobs with affordable health care at supermarkets across the country today. Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union in multiple cities are outside of major supermarkets communicating with customers in support of the 26,000 Safeway and Ahold workers in Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., who may be forced on strike because the companies refuse to offer a fair contract that reflects their success.

Supermarket giants Safeway and Ahold, owner of Giant Foods in the metro Washington, D.C. area, are refusing to provide access to affordable health care and living wages their employees have earned. This race to the bottom hurts communities who often have to bear the impact from greedy corporations that force hard-working families onto social services for basic needs.

Workers are taking action and reaching out to customers at Safeway and Ahold-owned stores coast-to-coast today, from Southern California and the Puget Sound to Chicago and along the East Coast.

UFCW members at Safeway-owned stores, Dominick’s and Genuardi’s, and Ahold-owned Stop & Shop stores are concerned about the companies’ bargaining agenda and how it could hurt the industry.

“Safeway and the other big grocery chains already reached agreements with workers in other parts of the country that provide affordable health care and decent wages.  It’s really important that these companies treat all of its employees fairly,” says Melissa Champion, UFCW Local 21 member and Seattle Safeway employee.

Caitlin Lawson, UFCW Local 328, works at Ahold-owned Stop & Shop in Massachusetts.  She said, “When we were fighting for health care and decent wages for part-timers, the workers in Baltimore and Washington took a stand with us.  Now I’m proud to let my company know that I’m still in this fight for a fair contract for all supermarket workers.”

The contract covering workers in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore expires on March 29, 2008.  Over the past 18 months, UFCW members have mobilized in unified actions to support supermarket bargaining.  The central website, www.groceryworkersunited.com, has been a focal point for solidarity actions and coast-to-coast UFCW member solidarity.

Just this week, a grocery worker from Chicago posted a message to UFCW members on the East Coast encouraging solidarity.  Jeff, a UFCW Local 1546 member, wrote, “Remember you are fighting not only for your contract talks, but for the rest of them across the nation. We will be watching here in Chicago because we will be starting grocery talks with Safeway near the end of the year.”

The actions today are the latest steps in the national unity bargaining movement among UFCW members working in the grocery industry.   The UFCW represents 1.3 million workers, with nearly one million in the grocery industry.

EMERGENCY PETITION ASSAILS OSHA

Washington, D.C. – Leading worker organizations today called on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust.  The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB).  Additional labor organizations representing workers at risk are also supporting the petition which was filed in reaction to a workplace explosion at a sugar refinery in Georgia on February 7.
 
The explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, resulted in the deaths of nine workers.  Scores of workers were also injured in the blast, and one worker is still missing.  Reports indicate that combustible dust may be implicated in this explosion, as has been the case in previous food plant explosions.

With the goal of protecting workers from combustible dust explosions and resulting fires,  the UFCW and International Brotherhood of Teamsters petition calls upon OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard which requires immediate controls instituted by employers where combustible dust hazards exist.  The petition also calls upon OSHA to put a new Permanent Standard in place for control of combustible dust hazards in general industry; inspect sugar processing plants; and implement a Special Emphasis Program on combustible dust hazards in a wide range of industries where combustible dust hazards exist.

The UFCW represents hundreds of workers in sugar plants around the country, including the Domino Sugar plant in Baltimore, Maryland.  UFCW members at the Domino plant narrowly escaped harm last November after a combustible dust explosion rocked the facility.  The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents nearly 500 members who are employed at eight sugar processing facilities throughout the United States.

The Bush Administration’s OSHA ignored the 2006 recommendation from the CSB to issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of the explosion in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards following three worksite dust explosions that killed 14 workers in 2003.  The CSB report noted that a quarter of the explosions between 1980 and 2005 occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar plants.

OSHA’s inaction on this workplace risk follows a pattern of the agency ignoring scientific evidence and its own rule-making guidelines.  By law, OSHA was supposed to respond to the CSB’s recommendations within six months. 

In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry.  However, the Grain Handling Facilities Standard stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry. 
 
The UFCW and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters join Representatives George Miller and Lynne Woolsey in the call for immediate OSHA inspections of all sugar-producing facilities.

UPDATE: COMBUSTIBLE DUST SAFETY ALERT