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June 28, 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.

June 9, 2010

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.

June 3, 2010

Activists Call for End to Gender Discrimination During Walmart Shareholder Meeting

Washington, DC – The following statement is from the Wake Up Walmart campaign of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW):

“With the disclosure of a 1995 internal Walmart memo documenting company-wide discriminatory practices nearly six years before the landmark Dukes v. Walmart class-action lawsuit, the women of Walmart are taking another step forward in their march for justice.

“Walmart shareholders must hold Walmart CEO Mike Duke accountable for the company’s failure to follow federal anti-discrimination and workplace laws.  The retail giant could face more than a billion dollars in back wages and other damages to women to settle the class-action suit.  Today’s news is a smoking gun that Walmart leadership was aware of the financial risk facing the company for six years before women took legal action against its policies that systematically paid female workers less than their male counterparts and prevented women from winning promotions.

“The internal memo was first reported on by the New York Times on June 3, 2010.  We call on Walmart to make this document public and give all 1.4 million Walmart associates access to the internal review.

“In statements to investors, Walmart claims that 15% of cash incentive payments for top executives are tied to meeting diversity goals.  Walmart should disclose the diversity goals so that shareholders can hold them accountable toward meeting them.  Shareholders will present a resolution at the company’s annual meeting tomorrow that will allow shareholders to hold executives accountable for issues like gender discrimination.

“Walmart executives must make public their diversity standards.  Until they can prove that they have purged their old sexist culture, Walmart executives should have their bonuses withheld.  As part of a national day of action involving Wake Up Walmart activists from across the country, we are asking Walmart shoppers to sign a letter to Walmart CEO Mike Duke calling for oversight in executive pay as long as allegations of discrimination remain outstanding.