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Local 400 Member Writes Op-Ed About Kroger’s New Anti-Union Direction

10153899_753063741381197_2612718722607377983_nLaverne Wrenn, a Local 400 member who works at a Kroger in Portsmouth, Virginia, wrote an op-ed this weekend that was published in the Virginian-Pilot.

In her op-ed, Laverne discusses how she and her co-workers have been preparing for the upcoming closure of her store. She says it will be hard to say goodbye to the customers whom she has known and served for 17 years, but what’s worse is that she and her coworkers will lose their jobs unless they are able to make a 50-mile, round-trip commute to the nearest unionized Kroger store in Yorktown, Virginia.

Putting these dedicated Kroger employees in this situation is irresponsible and unfair. Laverne says that she and her coworkers are active members of their Portsmouth community, and understandably many do not want to leave their communities, or they simply can’t.

Lavern’s coworker Nick, who has special needs, has been a fixture in their store where he scans and bags groceries, thanks to his “open smile and dedication” to the neighbors who shop in their store. On his days off, Nick volunteers with the Portsmouth Fire Department. Nick’s parents, who live nearby the Kroger, have been able to drive him to work for the last 16 years.

By closing their unionized workplace, Kroger is hurting workers like Laverne, Nick, and another employee who can’t drive due to medical reasons. Driving 50 miles twice a day is out of the question for many commuters, and impossible for those who can’t drive themselves. So although Kroger has a legal obligation to transfer their employees to other stores, they are essentially forcing many of these hard workers to quit.

Laverne writes:

“All of us who work in the High Street store are members of the Portsmouth community. We live here and send our children to the neighborhood schools. Many of my co-workers walk or take the bus to work; they do not own a car. We have built our lives around this store and this community. But now Kroger is giving us just one month’s notice to transfer to a store 25 miles away or lose our jobs.

Kroger signed a contract with us to protect our jobs if the company ever chose to close our store. This false choice – commute or quit – was never a part of our contract.”

There are two other Kroger stores in the Portsmouth area, however Kroger opened them under their Marketplace brand, as non-union. These non-union stores do not offer the types of jobs that Laverne and her coworkers have under their union-contract. “For a job with union wages, pension benefits and a voice on the job, the stores in Yorktown and Virginia Beach are the only options,” wrote Laverne.

Laverne’s op-ed conveys a shift in what Kroger stands for. What Laverne used to believe was a company that stood for good jobs, is not a company that is “deliberately expanding its non-union stores by acquiring Harris Teeter, building non-union Kroger Marketplaces and then pushing loyal union workers” out of town.

It is the workers who are supposed to have the right to choose whether or not they have union representation–not the company. Kroger needs to respect choice its Portsmouth workers made when they chose to be union members. Laverne urges all employees working at stores under the Kroger banner to fight for representation, to stop things like this from happening: “It is time for all Kroger Marketplace workers to make that choice. Together, we can keep good jobs and good workers in Portsmouth and strengthen our local economy.”

Women’s History Month: From Woolworth’s to Walmart, the Fight for Workplace Justice Continues

The last few days of Women’s History Month present us with an opportunity to pay tribute to women past and present who have taken a stand against the biggest employers in our country—Woolworth’s and Walmart—in the continued fight for social and economic justice.

Seventy-eight years ago during the Great Depression, over 100 female employees of Woolworth’s in downtown Detroit began a sit-down strike at their store for better workplace conditions.  At that time, Woolworth’s was the Walmart of its day, with more than 2,000 stores in the U.S., Canada, Cuba, Britain and Germany, and over 65,000 employees who were mostly young women. As the largest retailer in the country, Woolworth’s was well known for its low wages, long hours and anti-union practices.

On February 27, 1937, the women who worked the counters, cash registers and storerooms at the Woolworth’s store in Detroit decided that a sit-down strike was a way to draw attention to their fight for better wages, hours and overtime pay.  Previous sit-down strikes organized by rubber workers in Ohio and autoworkers in Michigan had been successful and served as a source of inspiration for the women.  The sit-down worked and the national media flocked to Detroit and compared the modest demands of the Woolworth’s women to the opulent lifestyle of Barbara Hutton, heiress to the Woolworth empire and, at the time, one of the richest women in the world.

The sit-down strike had support from the hotel and restaurant employees unions, as well as from labor leaders, including the head of the UAW.  When strikers shut down a second Woolworth’s store in Detroit and threatened to shut down all 40 stores in the area, support for the strikers spread throughout the country, including in New York City, where the retail clerks’ union launched a solidarity campaign. The strike also influenced Woolworth’s competitors to raise wages to head off similar sit-down strikes at their own stores. The strike ended on March 5, when Woolworth’s agreed to the workers’ demands, including a union contract for the 40 Woolworth’s stores in Detroit.

Today, Walmart is our country’s largest private employer, and it’s low-wage, part-time business practices have put a financial strain on too many Walmart women and their families.  Like the courageous women of Woolworth’s, OUR Walmart members have used the sit-down strike to protest Walmart’s disrespect of their rights.  OUR Walmart members have also compared the enormous wealth of the Walton Family, heirs to the Walmart empire, to their reasonable call for $15 an hour and access to full-time hours. While members of OUR Walmart have had several victories, such as better workplace policies for pregnant women through the “Respect the Bump” campaign and the recent announcement by Walmart that it would raise wages for 500,000 hourly associates, the fight for decent wages and hours continues.

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Some of the 100 female Woolworth workers who participated in a sit-down strike (top) and a recent photo of Walmart workers speaking out to stop retaliation in their workplace.

From the Woolworth’s strike of 1937 to the OUR Walmart member movement, these workers have shown that by sticking together, positive change is possible even at our country’s largest and most powerful employers.

Perrone: House GOP Budget Would Make Life Harder for Tens of Millions of Hard-Working American Families

WASHINGTON, D.C.Marc Perrone, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), today released the following statement in response to passage of the House Republican budget.

“Budgets are more than just numbers; they are a statement of values. House Republicans talk a lot about family values, but this budget cruelly and needlessly hurts families and children. It will make life harder for tens of millions of hard-working American families all to serve an ideological agenda. At a time of stagnant wages and rising income inequality, the House Republican budget is more of the same—cutting nutrition assistance, health care, job training, and college aid—all while giving another tax break to the wealthiest few. Instead of further dividing this country, Republican leaders and Congress must go back to the drawing board and pass a budget that invests in the future of working and middle class families. Make no mistake, we strongly oppose this proposal and urge the President to make clear he will veto it and any other extreme budget that hurts America’s families.”Marc-Perrone-2008