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September 1, 2006

NORTH CAROLINA KROGER WORKERS, COMMUNITY LEADERS, AND SUPPORTERS “”WALK THE BLOCK FOR HEALTH CARE””

(Durham, NC) – On Tuesday, August 29th, 2006, at 2:30 p.m., United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 204 members working at Kroger stores in the Raleigh-Durham area joined with local community leaders and supporters in asking Kroger to stop attacking workers’ health care. A press conference and neighborhood walk were held near the Durham Kroger on Highway 54.

Supporters like Barbara Zeltner of the North Carolina Council of Churches and Reverend Nelson Johnson of the Southern Faith and Labor Alliance, as well as Kroger workers and members of UFCW Local 204, got the chance to speak out on how Kroger’s plans to raid employee health care funds would hurt local communities.

“”I think the customers have a right to know how Kroger really treats their employees,”” said Monique Wilkerson, a local Kroger employee. Wilkerson has worked for Kroger for ten years but says that the last two have been difficult, with a young child at home and the strain of the long hours she has to work. “”Customers don’t realize that we work every holiday but Christmas, we work long hours, overnight sometimes, we have to do several jobs at once since we’re so understaffed–and now Kroger wants to take away the one thing they do well, our health care benefits. It’s just not right.””

Under Kroger’s current proposal, the company would take money out of workers’ health care funds and force workers to pay over $1.4 million to make up the difference.   Workers would have to choose between health care and things like rent, food, and other basic necessities.

Members of UFCW Local 204 have been attempting to negotiate a new contract with Kroger for over a month. Workers are frustrated by Kroger’s failure to put forth any reasonable proposals after weeks of bargaining.  UFCW members have made numerous fair and equitable proposals that would benefit both the company and workers, but Kroger has rejected these.  UFCW members are currently into the second day of a new bargaining session with Kroger.

UFCW members and supporters wanted to participate in the walk because they wanted to let their neighbors know what Kroger was up to.   “”The company?s not being fair to us, and they’re not being fair to the community,”” said 12-year Kroger employee Nina Tilley.  “”This affects everybody.  The people who shop here will still get charged the same or more, and now their families and neighbors will have less because they?ll be paying more for health care.””

August 30, 2006

EMERGENCY PETITION SEEKS IMMEDIATE ACTION ON LETHAL POPCORN FLAVORING

Unions, Supported by Scientific Community,
Petition California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for Emergency Temporary Standard for the Chemical

(Buena Park, California) – On August 23, 2006 the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, Western States Council and the California Labor Federation petitioned the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard for diacetyl, a deadly chemical used in flavorings. This follows action taken on July 26, 2006, when two affiliate unions of the Change to Win federation – the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters -petitioned the Department of Labor (DOL) for an Emergency Temporary Standard for diacetyl under Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Diacetyl is a hazardous chemical that has been connected to a potentially fatal lung disease that has been experienced by food industry workers across the nation. There have been dozens of cases of what has become known as “”popcorn workers lung,”” or bronchiolitis obliterans-a severe, disabling, and often-fatal lung disease experienced by factory workers who produce or handle diacetyl. Several food industry employees in California have developed devastating lung problems after being exposed to diacetyl in the workplace. There are currently no OSHA standards requiring exposures to diacetyl and flavorings be controlled.

According to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, there are 16 – 20 plants producing flavorings in the state of California. And thousands of food processing workers are involved in the production of popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, candies and even dog food that use these chemicals.

The petition was accompanied by a letter from forty-two of the nation’s leading occupational safety scientists, including a former OSHA director, five former top officials from OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services, who all agree that there is more than enough evidence for OSHA to regulate.

The UFCW and the California Labor Federation are petitioning the Standards Board to require employers to control airborne exposure to diacetyl and ensure that all employees who are exposed to a certain airborne level of the chemical are provided with air purifying respirators. The safety of these workers would be additionally monitored through medical surveillance and regular consultations.

The petition also demands that Cal/OSHA immediately issue a bulletin to all employers and employees potentially exposed to diacetyl outlining the dangers of the chemical. Cal/OSHA is being asked to conduct inspections and begin rule-making proceedings to establish a permanent standard that will put an end to this tragic epidemic and protect workers from exposure to all flavorings.

August 21, 2006

Kroger Workers Stand Firm Against Company

RALEIGH, N.C. — After a grueling 72 hours, contract negotiations between Kroger Company and Raleigh- Durham area grocery store workers broke off Wednesday evening. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 204 and Kroger have been at odds since negotiations began in late July, after Kroger proposed to raid employee health care reserve funds and force workers to pay $1 million from their own paychecks to cover the difference.

During the negotiations, UFCW members made several fair and equitable proposals. Kroger, however, refused to move on key issues like health care and wages, effectively ending negotiations at that time. Kroger workers were angered that the company’s negotiators appeared unable to make decisions on any of the proposals the UFCW offered.

UFCW members are hoping to schedule negotiations for Thursday and Friday of next week.          

The UFCW is committed to the bargaining process and will continue to bargain with Kroger as long as it takes to secure a good contract for grocery workers in North Carolina. However, if Kroger is unwilling to provide workers with affordable health care and wage increases, a strike may become a reality.

UFCW Local 204 members voted to authorize a potential strike at the beginning of August. The threatened strike would affect 1,917 workers from 19 stores in the Raleigh-Durham area.

August 14, 2006

Statement by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) on H.J. Heinz Company

Washington DC—The UFCW—which  represents 2,400 workers at six Heinz plants—fully endorses the Heinz management business plan for long-term growth in the food processing industry. The management plan offers the best opportunity for the kind of stable growth that will best benefit all stakeholders—employees, communities and shareholders.

The Peltz plan for re-orienting the direction of the company via a slate of Board of Directors candidates would put the company at risk by incurring excessive debt. The Peltz plan is short-sighted, narrowly gambling on a quick—but perhaps fleeting—spike in company value. The plan would disrupt key customer relationships, sell off operations, eliminate jobs, and close plants with no clear, long-term purpose of building a strong and growing company presence in the industry.

The UFCW agrees with the financial analysts who have concluded that the Peltz plan would place too much financial risk on the company without any real business plan for long-term sustainability.

The wisest and best choice for all stakeholders would be a rejection of the Peltz slate of directors at the company’s annual shareholder meeting next week in Pittsburgh. UFCW international Vice President Mark Lauritsen who heads the UFCW Manufacturing, Packing, and Food Processing Division, will attend the meeting where he will urge shareholders to cast a positive vote for the management plan that puts stability and growth over quick fix schemes.

August 3, 2006

NORTH CAROLINA KROGER WORKERS FIGHTING BACK FOR HEALTH CARE

(Raleigh, NC) – North Carolina Kroger workers are preparing to walk off the job, if forced, over company demands that would make health care unaffordable for workers and their families.  Meetings this week, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 204 voted overwhelmingly to reject Kroger’s latest contract demands and authorized a strike.  Members voted by 96.5 percent to reject the latest proposals and authorize a strike.
The UFCW is committed to the bargaining process and will continue to bargain with Kroger as long as necessary.  However, if Kroger is unwilling to provide workers with adequate health care and wage increases, a strike may become a reality as early as mid-August. The threatened strike would affect 1,000 workers from 19 stores in the Raleigh-Durham area.
North Carolina Kroger workers rejected company demands because:
  • They would be forced to pay an extra $1.4 million out of their own paychecks towards health care.
  • They would have to choose between health care and things like rent, food, and other basic necessities.
  • Any wage increases workers would get under the new contract would be eaten up by the proposed increased health care costs.
UFCW members are prepared to fight to maintain grocery jobs that can sustain a family and provide affordable health care.  Kroger workers are among the most productive in the retail food industry, and have generated more than $60 billion in sales for their company in the last year.
July 31, 2006

WAKEUPWALMART.COM LAUNCHES 2006 “”CHANGE WAL-MART, CHANGE AMERICA”” CROSS-COUNTRY BUS TOUR

NATIONWIDE EVENTS PLANNED WITH PROMINENT POLITICAL LEADERS AND COMMUNITY GROUPS FROM COAST-TO-COAST/ BUS TOUR TO VISIT 19 STATES, 35 CITIES IN 35 DAYS

Washington D.C. – WakeUpWalMart.com, America’s campaign to change Wal-Mart, is taking its national movement, and headquarters, on the road in a non-stop cross-country tour hitting 19 states, 35 cities, in 35 days. The nationwide bus tour, titled the “”2006 Change Wal-Mart, Change America Tour,”” is an unprecedented and exciting new move in the group’s campaign to change Wal-Mart into a responsible and moral employer.

The tour launches on August 1st in New York City and ends in Seattle on September 4th, Labor Day. During the tour, the WakeUpWalMart.com campaign will hold a series of events each day with supporters and political leaders to build public awareness about the need for Wal-Mart to change into a better corporate citizen. Some of the nation’s most prominent civic and political leaders will take part in the tour, including former Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate and former U.S. Senator John Edwards, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Congressman Sherrod Brown, Maryland U.S. Senate candidates Congressman Ben Cardin and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, Connecticut U.S. Senate candidate Ned Lamont, Connecticut Governor candidate, John DeStefano, Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Anna Burger, President of the Change-to-Win labor federation, and many others. Additional announcements concerning speakers and event details will be made ahead of each of the tour stops.

“”Whether it is at community meetings of 20 people, town halls, busy public squares, metro stops or state fairs with thousands of people, we are taking our campaign to change Wal-Mart directly to the American people because we know by joining together we can change Wal-Mart and change America for the better,”” said Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com.

On the “”2006 Change Wal-Mart, Change America”” bus tour WakeUpWalMart.com will be holding a series of events and actions all across America, including townhalls, community meetings, canvasses, as well as a summer membership drive at sporting events, state fairs, public squares, and at various Wal-Mart stores. In addition, as part of the 5-week tour, WakeUpWalMart.com will also release a new 30-second ad, titled “”One Mission”” that will air in cities across the country in coordination with the tour stops.

“”From the East Coast, to America’s heartland to the West Coast, we are asking Americans to join the fight for a better America where workers have good paying jobs and affordable health benefits. Our goal is to unleash an exciting new grassroots movement to hold corporations accountable, empower the American people, and make Wal-Mart a responsible corporate citizen that provides affordable health care, pays a living wage, protects American jobs and reflects the best of our values,”” added Blank.

The star of the “”2006 Change Wal-Mart, Change America”” tour is a 55-foot long bus (more like a monster billboard) nicknamed “”Smiley.”” The bus will be wrapped side-to-side and front-to-back in a patriotic American flag emblazoned with the group’s website, WakeUpWalMart.com, and the name of the tour, “”2006 Change Wal-Mart, Change America Tour.”” In addition, on each side of the bus, the central messages of the tour will be highlighted for all to see – including “”Join America’s Fight for Health Care,”” “”Join America’s Fight for Good Jobs”” and “”Join the Fight for a Better America.””

A unique feature of the tour will be a new power point presentation which will be unveiled at various town halls and community meetings. The power point, modeled after Vice President Al Gore’s recent documentary is titled, “”A Costly Truth,”” and will serve as a powerful tool to educate the American public about why Wal-Mart needs to change, the national cost we are paying because of Wal-Mart’s business model, and how Wal-Mart threatens America’s middle class.

During the 35-day tour, the details and location for each day’s planned events will be made available at WakeUpWalMart.com in a special section which will chronicle the groups adventures and experiences, as well as provide a video blog, photo updates, and a journal of each day’s events and experiences.

A list of the cities, events, and tour dates are below. Please visit WakeUpWalMart.com to learn more about details of events and get updates on any last minute changes.

1-Aug      New York NY

2-Aug      Bridgeport CT

2-Aug      Philadelphia PA

3-Aug      Baltimore MD

4-Aug      Pittsburgh PA

5-Aug      Detroit MI

6-Aug      Toledo OH

7-Aug      Cleveland OH

7-Aug      Elyria OH

8-Aug      Columbus OH

9-Aug      Cincinnati OH

9-Aug      Dayton OH

10-Aug    Springfield IL

11-Aug    St. Louis MO

12-Aug    Andersonville IL

12-Aug    Chicago IL

13-Aug    Milwaukee WI

14-Aug    Madison WI

15-Aug    Minneapolis MN

16-Aug    Davenport IA

17-Aug    Waterloo IA

18-Aug    Iowa City IA

19-Aug    Des Moines IA

20-Aug    Council Bluffs IA

21-Aug    Omaha NE

22-Aug    Denver CO

22-Aug    Pueblo CO

24-Aug    Albuquerque NM

25-Aug    Phoenix AZ

26-Aug    Las Vegas NV

26-Aug    Los Angeles CA

27-Aug    Santa Ana CA

27-Aug    Rosemead CA

28-Aug    San Francisco CA

29-Aug    Oakland CA

29-Aug    San Jose CA

30-Aug    Sacramento CA

1-Sep     Salem OR

2-Sep     Portland OR

4-Sep     Seattle WA

July 31, 2006

North Carolina Kroger Workers Stand Up for Health Care

North Carolina Kroger workers are ready to fight to protect affordable health care. Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 204 at stores in the Raleigh-Durham area will be voting to reject company demands that would make health care unaffordable for workers and their families.

More negotiations are to take place, and UFCW members will bargain in good faith with Kroger. However, if Kroger is unwilling to provide workers with adequate health care and wage increases, a strike may become a reality as early as mid-August.

Workers will be voting in three meetings this week: Monday July 31, 6 p.m. at the Windgate Inn in Greenville, Monday July 31, 7:30 p.m. at the North Gate Mall in Durham, and Tuesday Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m. at the North Raleigh Hilton in Raleigh. The threatened strike would affect 1000 workers from 19 stores in the area.

In their last contract, workers bargained for corporate contributions to their health care fund. Because local Kroger workers have remained relatively healthy in the last few years, there is now over $4 million in that fund–$4 million that is already invested for health care for workers and their families.

But corporate greed has surfaced. Kroger wants to raid that fund themselves and then force workers to pay an extra $1 million out of their own paychecks towards health care. This adds up to an unsustainable amount for Kroger workers and their families.

If Kroger’s proposed health care changes are put into place, workers, especially those with families, will have to choose between health care and things like rent, food, and other basic necessities. Any wage increases workers would get under the new contract would be eaten up by the proposed increased health care costs.

UFCW members believe that grocery jobs can and should be good, career jobs that can sustain a family and provide affordable health care. Kroger workers are among the most productive in the retail food industry, and have generated more than $60 billion in sales for their company in the last year. Yet Kroger treats them as though they are dispensable.

UFCW members remain committed to reaching a fair agreement with Kroger. But Kroger has to meet workers halfway, and to stop punishing those with families. Kroger workers have contributed greatly to their company, and they deserve better.

July 31, 2006

A Statement from the UFCW on the FDIC

(Washington, DC) – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) applauds the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) decision to place a six-month moratorium on applications for deposit insurance by Industrial Loan Companies (ILCs). The FDIC has stated that it will not make final decisions or accept future applications for deposit insurance or notices of change in control for ILCs during this time period.

The FDIC put the moratorium in place in order to assess developments in the ILC industry, and to determine whether statutory, regulatory or policy changes need to be made in the oversight of ILC charters and ILC applications procedures and standards.

“This moratorium is a good first step in preventing the mix of commerce and banking,” said Michael J. Wilson, UFCW International Vice President and Director of Legislative and Political Action.   “The FDIC’s concern with the application by Wal-Mart and other large commercial firms is well grounded, and this moratorium is an appropriate response.”

Earlier this year, UFCW participated in public hearings held by the FDIC.   These unprecedented hearings were held in two cities over three days in order to accommodate the large number of elected officials, organizations, and associations who voiced concerns about Wal-Mart’s application for an ILC.

ILCs are regulated differently than banks because they were originally small entities permitted by a loophole in the Bank Holding Act.   If Wal-Mart—the world’s largest retailer with a history of unethical business practices—is granted access into banking via an ILC charter, there will be far-reaching consequences beyond the original intent of the Act.

If Wal-Mart is chartered in Utah, a “Wal-Mart bank” could branch out into more than 20 states because of state reciprocal branching laws. Approving the Wal-Mart application risks not only undermining the separation between commerce and banking, but threatens an expansion of “Wal-Mart banks” in multiple states, and in multiple aspects of the banking industry.

“UFCW will continue working with its partners in the Sound Banking Coalition, in the labor movement, and with consumer and community groups to make sure the FDIC is aware of the serious concerns about Wal-Mart’s application into banking,” said Wilson.  “In addition, we will also continue working with our partners in the states to enact state banking protection laws to prevent Wal-Mart from expanding to states beyond Utah.”

The FDIC’s six-month moratorium expires on January 31, 2007.

July 26, 2006

Emergency Petition Assails OSHA

(Washington, DC) —On July 26, 2006, two affiliate unions of the Change to Win federation — the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — began petitioning the Department of Labor (DOL) to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to stop the continued risk of diacetyl exposure to workers. In 2002 and 2003, OSHA’s own scientists studying diacetyl unsuccessfully urged their leaders to take broader action to protect workers. There are currently no OSHA standards requiring exposures to be controlled.

Diacetyl is a hazardous chemical that has been connected to a potentially fatal lung disease that has been experienced by food industry workers across the nation.  There have been dozens of cases of what has become known as “popcorn workers lung,” or bronchiolitis obliterans—a severe, disabling, and often-fatal lung disease experienced by factory workers who produce or handle diacetyl.

“Three workers have died and hundreds of others seriously injured,” said Jackie Nowell, UFCW Safety & Health Director. “It’s time for action. We will not let food processing workers continue to be the canaries in the coal mine while waiting for the industry to regulate itself.”

More than 8,000 workers are employed in the flavorings production industry and may be exposed to the dangers of diacetyl and other similar chemicals. Tens of thousands of food processing workers are involved in the production of popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, candies and even dog food that use these chemicals.  It is not clear whether consumers are at risk from exposure to diacetyl but certainly the workers who deal with high concentrations of the flavoring chemical are at risk of developing serious and irreversible lung damage.

The unions’ petition is accompanied by a letter from forty-two of the nation’s leading occupational safety scientists, including a former OSHA director, five former top officials from OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services, who all agree that there is more than enough evidence for OSHA to regulate.

“”Study after study have shown that breathing artificial butter flavor destroys workers lungs. We know how to prevent this terrible disease but OSHA refuses to act”” said Dr. David Michaels of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health.

The UFCW and Teamsters filed the petition for an Emergency Temporary Standard with the DOL to require employers to control airborne exposure to diacetyl and ensure that all employees who are exposed to a certain airborne level of the chemical are provided with air purifying respirators. The safety of these workers would be additionally monitored through medical surveillance and regular consultations.

The petition also demands that OSHA immediately issue a bulletin to all employers and employees potentially exposed to diacetyl outlining the dangers of the chemical.  OSHA is being asked to conduct inspections and begin rule-making proceedings to establish a permanent standard that will put an end to this tragic epidemic and protect workers from exposure to all flavorings.

“The science is clear.  Now it is time for the Department of Labor to employ their regulatory mandate and protect the public,” said Lamont Byrd, Teamster Safety & Health Director. “Such illnesses and fatalities are avoidable and therefore, inexcusable.  An Emergency Standard is necessary to prevent the suffering and death of the additional workers who will get sick during the time it would take for OSHA to set a Permanent Standard.”

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s 1.4 million members work in America’s supermarkets, meatpacking and food processing plants.  Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents more than 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States and Canada.  Both unions are founding members of the Change to Win federation.  www.changetowin.org

For more information and studies about Popcorn Workers Lung Disease, go to www.DefendingScience.org

 

 

July 20, 2006

JUDGE APPLIES CODE OF UNIVERSAL IRRESPONSIBILITY TO RIP HEALTH CARE COVERAGE FROM MARYLANDAL-MART WORKERS

(Washington, DC) — In a cynical catch 22 decision U.S. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz determined that Maryland state government could not require companies operating in the state to provide adequate health care coverage for employees because federal law trumped Maryland’s Fair Share Health Care Act passed last winter.

The act required companies with 10,000 or more employees to spend at least 8 percent on employee health care or pay the difference in taxes.

Motz’s decision follows bizarre logic.  Essentially it says because Wal-Mart acts uniformly irresponsibly nationwide by failing to provide adequate heath care for employees, states cannot enact legislation to require companies to meet certain responsible employee health care standards.

The losers in Motz’s decision are Maryland Wal-Mart workers—since Wal-Mart is the only large company that wouldn’t have been in compliance with the legislation.

Clearly, for Motz to conclude that the legislation would hurt Wal-Mart because it would have amounted to the company doing extra paper work in Maryland is more than bizarre and his decision should be appealed and overturned.

Motz’s decision puts the interests of the world’s largest retailer over the needs of Maryland citizens like Cynthia Murray who has worked for Wal-Mart for five years and still can’t afford the Wal-Mart health care plan.  Wal-Mart’s irresponsible corporate agenda shifts medical treatment costs to taxpayers and responsible corporations and further strains America’s failing health care system.