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    UFCW Blog

September 19, 2012

An American Worker: Eno Awotoye

“The American Worker – A Look at the American Worker in 2012” is Current.com’s recent series of spotlights on today’s hardworking Americans, ranging from auto workers and school workers to baristas, administrators, and caregivers.  Each installment in the series focuses on one such worker, giving a quick look at biographical info, including salary, and detailing each person’s relationship with their job.  We thought this was a great resource, and honest glimpse into the highs and lows of real jobs today.

One of the bios that intrigued us the most was that of Eno Awotoye, a Vendor Selling Specialist at Macy’s Herald Square.  As a unionized retail worker, Eno makes a good salary at 21.50 an hour, plus bonuses. Originally from Nigeria, she now lives in the Bronx, and enjoys great employee benefits including vacation, paid sick days/paid time off, medical & vision & dental insurance, and 401k with employer matching. Below, Eno answers questions from Current.com: 

– What worries you the most about your job? What worries you most about your life outside of work?
“At work, I want to make sure that our union stays strong and that no anti-worker legislation is passed. Outside of work, I want to focus on my personal growth, and how to find time to continue to do art.”

– Are you in a union? Does your industry have unions? Do you think your industry should unionize?
“Yes, I’m a member of RWDSU/UFCW’s Local 1-S (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union) at Macy’s on 34th Street in Manhattan. Unfortunately, only about 4 percent of the retail industry is unionized, and I think it should be much higher.”

– What is your proudest career accomplishment?
“My proudest career accomplishment has been being able to take what I’ve learned from almost 20 years of working at Macy’s to help other retail workers. I teach free customer service training classes, as well as professional sales classes such as building client books, visual merchandising, fine jewelry, etc., to retail workers seeking better jobs in this economy. Through this, I’m able to help folks who work in an industry with a lot of job growth get better jobs, while teaching them about their rights on the job.”

-If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be? (More flexible hours, better benefits, higher salary, better job security, pension plan, etc)
“I get all of the benefits listed above at my job because of our union contract, but most non-union retail workers don’t get these benefits. What I wish is that I can help workers get these basic protections and benefits at their jobs.”

Because she and her co-workers are about sticking together in their union and improving their workplace, Eno has many benefits that non-union retail employees may not.  We think it is awesome that she works hard to help other retail workers who aren’t yet as fortunate, to teach them skills and inspire them to come together for their rights on the job.  Although only a small percentage of retail workers currently enjoy good jobs like Eno’s at Macy’s, if we all stick together we can work for a brighter  future for workers.

September 11, 2012

A Star Steward

Penny Gibson

Penny Gibson is a meat-cutter at Kroger, a union member, a political activist, and definitely a star steward for UFCW Local 876.

One of the great things Penny is doing to help her coworkers and her community is helping people to register for this year’s election.  With the help of her local union’s Voter Registration Toolkit, Penny working hard to make sure all her coworkers, friends, and neighbors, have a voice in November.

Penny has also dedicated her time and energy to the Protect Our Jobs effort, a drive to put a measure on the November ballot allowing voters to decide on a proposal to add the right to collective bargaining to the Michigan constitution. She secured over 50 signatures, the most of any Local 876 steward. With collective bargaining under attack in so many states across the country, Michigan has a chance to lead the charge for the basic freedoms of speech and association that collective bargaining represents.

Penny says she’s dedicated herself to protecting collective bargaining in part because “many young workers do not realize it is their union contract that provided that raise, that $3 prescription refill, and that week-long paid vacation up north. It is not the company that provided these benefits, it was the union who negotiated these on our behalf.”

With Penny on the case, those young workers will be activists in no time! UFCW member activists and stewards keep their union running. To learn more about how to get involved with your local union, email submissions@ufcw.org or send us a message on Facebook.

 

September 10, 2012

Tyson Workers Receive Long-Awaited Payment from Wage and Hour Lawsuit Settlement

$32 million Settlement Ends 12-year Legal Battle to Get Paid for Hours Worked

(Washington, D.C.) – After a 12 year legal struggle, more than 12,000 Tyson poultry workers in 41 plants in 12 states will receive their payments from the largest settlement against a major poultry company at $32 million.  Thanks to the tenacity and dedication of thousands of workers from across the country and the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, workers involved in the suit will receive payments averaging $1,200 in lost wages.

The success of the Tyson’s settlement for poultry workers is just one in a series of actions where workers continue to fight and take a stand for workers’ rights in poultry and meatpacking plants around the country. Similar cases have been brought and resolved against Perdue and Pilgrim’s Pride plants as well. The UFCW continues to work to make sure that every meatpacking and poultry worker is paid honestly and fairly for the work they do. A suit that was filed in 1999 was the first action of its kind to force poultry companies to obey the nation’s basic wage and hour laws.

“This lawsuit and the new pay practices in the meatpacking and poultry industry are just one way union workers raise standards for every worker in their industry,” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President. “While this settlement is long overdue, our efforts have ensured that thousands of workers have been paid correctly for years now.”

The affected Tyson poultry employees work at plants in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.

These payments will inject much-needed money into America’s rural economy and reward a hard-working and dedicated group of poultry workers.

The lawsuit charged Tyson with violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and cheating their poultry plant employees out of wages by failing to pay workers for the time they spend putting on and taking off protective gear they wear to keep the food they process safe and for their own protection. The poultry company also violated the basic wage and hour laws by failing to provide workers with their required break time.

“Every American deserves to get paid for the work they do,” Hansen continued. “We’re changing the way meat and poultry industries do business by ensuring that workers are paid for all of their time on the job.”

Workers, the UFCW, and activists started to take collective action for workers’ rights to fair wages and treatment at the workplace in 1999. Between 1999 and 2001, they took their action on the road and spread the word of their mission through a bus tour and leafleting other Tyson workers. In that brief time, almost 4,000 workers signed up to join. The federal lawsuit developed following a U.S. Department of Labor survey that found over 60 percent of the nation’s poultry companies were in violation of basic wage and hour laws.

The collective case representing the workers from several plants from across the country went through several judges until a judge in November 2006 declared that the case under the different plants could not be presented as a singular case and dismissed it. The workers and their supporters continued their legal action despite the large setback and filed their cases on a plant-by-plant basis. More than 17,000 workers start signing up to join the suit under the new case conditions.

In September 2011, the workers sent a settlement agreement to the court, which the court later approved. After almost 12 years, workers receive notice in January 2012 that they will finally be receiving their settlement payments.

In order to qualify for the settlement, current workers must have signed up to be part of the lawsuit back in 2008 and former employees were required to send back the W-4 form included with the payment notice, so that tax withholdings could be properly calculated.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.

September 7, 2012

Massachusetts Co-ops Stick Together and Join Local 1459

Adam Grandin works in the kitchen of the Green Fields Market in Greenfield, Mass., as part of a food co-op with stores in two towns in Western Massachusetts. Over a period of time, Grandin and many of the workers at his store, and the other Franklin Community Co-op – Mc-Clusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls – had grown increasingly frustrated with a workplace that had moved further and further from a cooperative vision.

Health care was unaffordable and the lack of respect by management for employees’ hard work made the work environment increasingly unfriendly.

 Fed up and deciding to do something about the unfair working conditions at the co-op, Grandin and his coworkers formed an organizing committee and reached out to UFCW Local 1459. Once approximately two-thirds of the 75 workers at the Franklin Community Co-op demonstrated their interest in unionizing, Grandin and the others moved forward in the process. 

“Some people had a false idea that the union was coming in to take over,” said Grandin. “It wasn’t the union coming in to take over, it was workers coming together for change.”

While the co-op board backed the workers, organized opposition forced another vote.  Other union workers, members of Local 1459, Jobs with Justice, and the local Occupy movement united with co-op members to show their support for the organizing workers. And it paid off.

On August 15th, the co-op board recognized the workers’ new union, Local 1459, and they will soon begin
bargaining for a new contract.

“I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to the co-op,” said Grandin.

The efforts of workers fighting for better jobs, as well as the Locals of UFCW and other organizations in our communities can together make progress our country’s working people.  Fair treatment and good jobs should be a right, and when we stick together, they are a reality.

September 6, 2012

Longest Serving Employee in Macy’s History Retires After 73 Years on the Job!

Can you imagine working in the days when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the White House and the biggest movie at the box-office was The Wizard of Oz?

Rose Syracuse Photo credit: CRAIG WARGA/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Rose Syracuse, can do you one better, because she was actually living those moments.  The 92-year old has been working for a whopping 73 years at the Macy’s Herald Square flagship store in New York City.  Rose, also a member of RWDSU/UFCW Local 1-S, is now announcing her retirement.

Rose has been a member of Local 1-S for most of her life; in fact, there has never been a time when Local 1-S existed without her membership! Rose was there to witness the birth of the union at Macy’s, and all of the changes that have impacted retail workers since.

Starting as a 17-year-old, Rose entered the Macy’s workforce during a difficult economy, similar to today’s, when America was still feeling the effects of the great depression, and embroiled in World War II.  During that time, Rose and her co-workers received a mere $14 per 48-hour work week.

However, after marching through the store, as well as down the streets through the bitter cold, Rose and the others were able to unionize, knowing it would bring about better conditions. They may not have known it at the time, but this victory was one that would benefit the Macy’s workers that came after them for generations and generations.

Speaking with RWDSU/UFCW, Rose pointed out that “the union fights for you.  They really help you. Otherwise how could you do it all by yourself? Nobody would listen to you.” We couldn’t agree more. Rose’s statement reminds us that the point of a union has not changed from 73 years ago: when sticking together, we have a voice that will be listened to.

We’d like to thank Rose for all she has done- serving at Macy’s, and of course laying the ground work for labor movements for years to come.  We hope she will now enjoy her well-deserved retirement!

September 1, 2012

Send a Labor Thank You Card This Holiday!

Labor Day is a time in September to enjoy a lazy day off, right? Well, sure, but we tend to forget sometimes that labor day is actually about…labor!

To help recognize the working people that help keep America strong, the AFL-CIO has launched a new digital application.

http://www.aflcio.org/apps/thanks/images/sharethanks.pngThe new app, found at aflcio.org/thankyou, allows users to send innovative thank you cards through facebook and email, to friends and other people whose work we rely on.  The app also features videos from a variety of people, including actor Martin Sheen, giving thanks and recognizing the hard work of people whom we rely on every day.

Want to thank someone yourself? Visit the site to send an e-card to bus drivers, baristas, firefighters, construction workers, teachers and others whose work helps others every day. Together we can reclaim Labor Day!