June, 2010

UFCW Members Celebrate New Contract with Giant Eagle

(Pittsburgh, Penn.) – Late last Friday, thousands of Giant Eagle supermarket workers from Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia ratified a new contract with Giant Eagle.  Highlights of the agreements between the members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23 and Giant Eagle include:

  • Substantial hourly wage increases over the four-year contract;
  • Higher pay rates and vacation benefits for newly hired workers;
  • Increased quality and access to affordable health benefits; and
  • Strengthening of retirement security for all workers.

Ratification of the contract stands to benefit Giant Eagle, the workers that have made the company a market-leading success, and communities around Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania.

“UFCW Local 23 members were facing a number of issues in these negotiations but our membership came together.  The new contract is a testament to our solidarity and union spirit,” said Tony Helfer, UFCW Local 23 President.

UFCW Local 23 members mobilized like never before to inspire customers to support Giant Eagle, a local supermarket company, and to stand with its workers.  With a number of Giant Eagle franchise stores in the area where workers are not afforded the same rights and benefits as the UFCW Local 23 members, workers plan to take the energy and momentum from this bargaining process to work toward raising standards across the company.

The contract covers approximately 5,800 employees at 36 Giant Eagle Stores in Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia and will be in effect until June 28th 2014.  UFCW Local 23 represents a total of over 13,000 members in West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.

Global Companies, Global Campaigns, Global Unions


We work in a global industry, and UFCW stewards are part of a global federation of workers. In a time when Swift and Pilgrim’s Pride are both owned by JBS, a Brazilian company, when Plumrose is owned by the European company Danish Crown, and when Kraft Foods is acquiring the Britain-based Cadbury, stewards all over the world face the same issues and the same corporations as UFCW stewards here at home.
As more and more companies become multinationals, it is more important than ever that UFCW stewards interact with other stewards from around the world. When stewards connect across the globe to exchange strategies for keeping their coworkers safe and making sure working and living standards rise equitably across borders, the payoff is huge.
That’s why at a recent meeting in Omaha, the UFCW welcomed stewards and labor leaders who represent workers at JBS facilities in Brazil and Australia. JBS-affiliated stewards from several different UFCW locals had the opportunity to meet with these international representatives and share strategies for tackling challenges in the workplace and dealing with management on a variety of issues.
In the course of the meeting, one thing became clear: keeping lines of communications open among stewards across the world is crucial. If we keep in touch with our brothers and sisters in Australia, in England, in Brazil, as issues arise, we can get ahead of them and make sure things run smoothly in the workplace.
To that end, UFCW locals have also taken the lead in fostering international solidarity. UFCW locals from the United States have visited Brazil, to see how JBS plants there operate. Another important conversation started three years ago when Local 1776 was negotiating its contract with the Italian specialty meats company Citterio USA, in Freeland, PA. With assistance from the UFCW International, the Local turned to its brothers and sisters at Citterio’s plants in Italy for additional information about the companyand its practices overseas. In November 2009, a delegation of Italian union leaders and Italian Citterio plant stewards came to the United States to continue the conversation.
“Meeting with the Italian stewards from Citterio was great for us because we realized we are all dealing with the same company and facing the same issues. It was really helpful to have a chance to get together and discuss our experiences. I feel like now I understand the company I work for a lot better. I hope we can keep this connection going,” said Mike Palmer, a Citterio steward for Local 1776.
The visitors attended a 1776 Executive Board meeting, toured the Cargill case ready meat plant in Hazleton (the union also represents Cargill workers in Italy), visited the innovative Brown’s ShopRite at 52nd and Jefferson Sts. in Philadelphia, walked through a Walmart, and, most importantly, spent many hours meeting with 1776 Citterio Stewards to share experiences and best practices.
The UFCW also works with UNI Global Union and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations to strategize around the issues food and commercial workers face every day, in every country around the world.

One Year After Tragedy in Garner, Safety Regulations Can

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The following is a statement from Jackie Nowell, Director of Occupational Safety and Health at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union:

A year ago today – June 9, 2009 – it was a warm afternoon in Garner, North Carolina when a powerful explosion leveled the ConAgra Foods plant. A tragic error in judgment while installing a new water heater led an outside contractor to repeatedly release natural gas from a pipe into an enclosed room near the center of the building and an unknown spark set it ablaze.

The resulting explosion and toxic ammonia release killed four people and injured 70 others. It was a preventable tragedy that destroyed lives, livelihoods and a community of friends and neighbors. The United Food and Commercial Workers represented the more than 300 ConAgra workers affected by the blast and saw first-hand the devastation caused by this explosion.

Conflagrations like this one killed and injured workers from Missouri to Michigan, and yet no regulations existed to prevent contractors from purging gas lines into closed spaces. Working with authorities and experts from across the country we set about to change this. Our fight became marked by even greater urgency after five workers were killed in yet another gas purging explosion in Connecticut that February.

Along with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, who investigated this explosion, we urged the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – who provides safety codes for building contractors across the country – to adopt regulations that would prevent contractors from purging explosive gasses into enclosed spaces. But after heavy lobbying from the natural gas and propane industries, the NFPA wilted like old lettuce and failed to stand for the safety of America’s workers.

So here we are, one year later. The plant in Garner rather is scheduled to close, bringing a second round of devastation to the community. We know we can’t bring back these workers, these friends, these family members back to their community and their loved ones. The broken system at the NFPA has failed to learn from these tragedies and has bowed to industry pressure to let these deadly indoor gas purges continue unregulated.

This is frankly unacceptable. As Debra Petteway, a Food and Commercial Workers member who worked in the ConAgra plant and lost her son to the explosion said, “Louis Watson was my son, he was my only son, and now he’s gone. They didn’t have to die, and if someone doesn’t fix this, it’s going to happen again.”

Ms. Petteway is right. The NFPA, who is supposed to protect workers like her son, has shirked their duty.

So one year later, the “experts” charged with protecting America’s workers have failed to learn from this tragedy or from the legions before or after. How much longer will we wait with no regulatory or legislative action for the safety of American workers? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and our legislators must not wait for these quasi-governmental regulatory bodies to demonstrate their craven kowtowing to industry demands any longer. We need comprehensive legislative or OSHA regulation so that the lessons of those who gave their lives in these explosions are not forgotten and all those that come later are protected from a similar fate.