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    UFCW Blog

February 26, 2009

Gourmet Grocery workers fight back against wage theft

(New York)—Five hundred and fifty gourmet grocery workers will receive nearly $1.5 million in unpaid wages, thanks to the efforts of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1500.

In 2008, several workers at Amish Markets and related stores Zeytinia, Zeytinz, and Zeytuna approached UFCW Local 1500 because they wanted to form a union at their stores. UFCW soon discovered that many workers were not being paid proper overtime and brought the violations to the attention of the New York State Department of Labor.  The DOL conducted a sweep of nine locations and confirmed widespread wage and hour and labor violations including:

–employees who had worked up to 60 hours per week who were not paid time-and-a-half for their overtime as required by law;

–workers paid less than the minimum wage as part of a “trial period”;

–at least one whistleblower who was terminated in retaliation for providing information to the New York State Department of Labor.

Bruce W. Both, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 said, “When workers do not receive the pay they’re entitled to by law, both workers and taxpayers suffer. Unpaid wages also mean unpaid taxes. We can never tolerate that, especially in these difficult economic times. The New York State Department of Labor and the workers from Amish Markets, a gourmet grocery store serving high-end food products, deserve the gratitude of every taxpayer in the city because they had the courage to stand up and say: ‘This is wrong!’ Today, the only thing being served and delivered by these grocery workers is justice.”

Local 1500’s Gourmet Grocery Campaign is an effort to bring a union voice on the job to workers in New York’s gourmet grocery industry so they may secure middle class wages, decent benefits, and improved working conditions.

Local 1500 and the Building Blocks Project play a leading role in bringing good food, good jobs, and good health to New York’s neighborhoods by promoting and establishing policies that preserve existing supermarkets, develop new supermarkets and ensure the ability of grocery workers to form unions.

February 9, 2009

FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS URGE CONFIRMATION OF SECRETARY DESIGNATE HILDA SOLIS

Sign the Petition

(Washington, DC)  — The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), America’s neighborhood union, calls for the immediate confirmation of Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis.  Secretary Designate Solis has been a loyal champion for working Americans, fighting for workers’ rights and safety. UFCW members know that she will be an excellent Secretary of Labor, and are frustrated that Republican Senators are obstructing her confirmation during this economic crisis.  While thousands of people are forced onto unemployment, our nation needs to have a Labor Secretary to immediately help solve our jobs crisis.

Why are Republican Senators delaying this important confirmation? Solis has a stellar track record on labor issues.  Her own background as the daughter of a union shop steward from Mexico and an assembly line worker from Nicaragua has led her to stand up and speak out for working families. And the confirmation of the first Latina Secretary of Labor, showcasing the growing diversity in our country, should be a matter of pride for the U.S.

It is clear that those Republican Senators who seek to thwart her confirmation would like to prevent the Department of Labor from fulfilling its function: in the words of the DOL’s mission statement, by fostering and promoting “the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States.”

Secretary Designate Solis’ expertise with labor issues, her experience as a federally-elected official and her longtime role as a champion of workers are reason enough for confirmation.  She is eminently qualified, and Republican Senators should stop obstructing her confirmation.

February 3, 2009

SPEAKING OUT FOR UNION EARNS PRICERITE WORKER PAY CUT, DEMOTION

Joe Sorrentino, a worker at a Wakefern PriceRite Supermarket in North Providence, Rhode Island, has been punished for standing up for a union at his workplace, according to charges filed by UFCW Local Union 328 with the National Labor Relations Board.

Sorrentino and other PriceRite employees have been working to organize with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), but have faced a campaign of company harassment and intimidation. Shortly after receiving national attention for speaking out on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act at a Washington, DC, press conference on January 13, Sorrentino was demoted and given a pay cut—the kind of harassment by corporations against workers that the Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate.

UFCW Local 328, in Providence has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking reinstatement of Sorrentino’s position and pay, as a Night Crew Chief.

“This is the way companies destroy worker attempts to gain a voice on the job,” said Dave Fleming, UFCW local 328 President. “They wage fear campaigns. They fire. They spy. They intimidate. They send a clear and frightening message that if you support forming a union, you will be punished.”

A study from Cornell University scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner found that:

  • In 25 percent of organizing campaigns, private-sector employers illegally fire workers because they want to form a union.
  • Half of employers threaten to shut down partially or totally if employees join together in a union.
  • Ninety-two percent of private-sector employers, when faced with employees who want to join together in a union, force employees to attend closed-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda; 80 percent require supervisors to attend training sessions on attacking unions; and 78 percent require that supervisors deliver anti-union messages to workers they oversee.
  • Seventy-five percent hire outside consultants to run anti-union campaigns, often based on mass psychology and distorting the law.

Joe Sorrentino, like countless other workers trying to improve their workplace, exercised his right speak out for a union on the job,” said Fleming. “The next thing he knew, he was demoted with a wage cut of $3 an hour.”

February 2, 2009

Packinghouse Workers Win Solid Wage and Benefits Increases with Smithfield Foods

(Washington, DC) – Two new contracts—one covering 1800 Smithfield/Farmland Foods workers in Crete, Neb., and the other covering 250 Smithfield/Armour Eckrich workers in Mason City, Iowa—raise living standards for meatpacking workers and their families. The contracts negotiated by members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 271 and 6 provide solid wage increases, lower worker health care costs with improved health care benefits, and retirement security.

More than 10,000 workers at twelve UFCW local unions that are bargaining (or have recently settled) new contracts with Smithfield have been taking unified worksite actions over the past eight months. This unified bargaining approach is sending a strong message to Smithfield that UFCW members are willing to stick together for contracts that raise working conditions and living standards for meatpacking workers across the industry. One of the goals of the program was to show UFCW members at each plant that no one stood alone. Unity bargaining is producing the best contracts in the pork industry and changing the lives of workers.

“We just settled a contract that secures middle class wages and benefits for our families and we did it by working together with our UFCW brothers and sisters in Nebraska and across the country, said Bob Hampton,” chief steward at Local 6 in Mason City. “Smithfield workers are sticking together to make Smithfield jobs quality, middle class jobs you can raise a family on.”

In Mason City, the new four-year contract:

–Increases wages by $1.40 over the four year term of the contract.

–Maintains affordable health insurance and adds improved well child care and a variety of improvements in health care benefits.

–Improves vacation pay.

–Improves retirement.

–Improves sick pay.

In Crete, the new four-year contract:

–Increases wages by at least $1.50 over the four year term of the contract.

–Improves health care coverage with controlled costs to workers.

–Secures retirement.

–Improves working conditions.

These contracts are the latest of several major collective bargaining wins for UFCW packing and food processing members across the country.  The UFCW represents 250,000 workers in this industry.  Smithfield workers at the company’s largest pork processing plant recently voted to join the UFCW after a 15-year campaign.