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September 25, 2008

UNITED FOOD AND COMMERICAL WORKERS URGES CONGRESS TO MAKE RETIREMENT SECURITY PART OF FINANCIAL RESCUE PACKAGE

Washington DC — The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is calling on Congress to include pension security as part of the financial rescue package expected to pass by day’s end tomorrow.

Current pension law provides that if a pension plan’s rating slips, benefits of retirees must be cut absent increases in funding. It would be grossly unfair to pensioners if their benefits were cut while a troubled financial institution receives bailout assistance.

The fair course to take would be to temporarily suspend the enforcement of the pension law until Congress develops a plan to allow pension portfolios to return to more normal levels.

This would benefit both union and non-union companies.  It is crucial that any actions taken by Congress do not permanently reduce the pension benefits in an attempt to solve the temporary but serious financial crisis.

The retirement security for millions of workers and their families is on the line.  Congress must be mindful of the long-term implications of the rescue package and how it relates to other regulatory laws that impact workers pensions.  Failure to address the immediate adverse impact of the financial meltdown on pension plans would have disastrous consequences for ordinary working Americans who have an expectation of receiving adequate benefits at retirement.

 

September 24, 2008

DENISON FARMLAND WORKERS REACH TENATIVE AGREEMENT

(Denison, Iowa) – Farmland Foods and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 440 returned to the bargaining table this week and reached a tentative agreement that addresses the bargaining unit’s concerns about the previous offer and increases Farmland’s production capacity.  Both parties look forward to a union ratification vote on September 25, 2008.

Farmland is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.

The UFCW is the voice for meatpacking and food processing workers, with more than 250,000 of the union’s 1.3 million members working in these industries.

For more information, contact Mark Kuemmerlein, Farmland Foods, 816-243-2854 or Jill Cashen, UFCW, 202-728-4797.

 

September 3, 2008

Restoring the American Dream

Washington DC—Martin Luther King Jr. once described Americans and our American way of life this way: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

That statement is as profound—and instructive—today as it was a half century ago when Dr. King wrote those words from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama.

Labor Day traditionally kicks off the final sprint to Election Day. From now until November 4, Americans will engage in a national debate about who to entrust with the awesome responsibility of leading our nation. It is up to every single American to determine the tone and character of that debate. We have a choice. We can conduct this debate on the merits of each candidate, knowing that we are, all of us, tied in a single garment, endeavoring in the serious work of setting the future course for our children and grandchildren. Or we can use this national debate as a platform to breed division, conflict, and racial fears as some extremists are already doing in newspapers and over the airwaves.

We cannot solve the challenges before us unless we truly recognize that we must solve them together. Americans may come from different backgrounds and outlooks—but we share the same hope of achieving the American dream. All of us want to take part, and do our part, in a society that provides a better life for every American.

I believe Senator Barack Obama is the best candidate—the American dream candidate—not only for working people, but for all Americans. He believes in the promise of the American dream because he has lived it. He believes that, in America, if you work hard you ought to share in the success of your labor. In America, you ought to be able to earn wages and benefits that can raise a family.

From ending the war in Iraq to shoring up the economy, from ensuring health care for every American to solving our energy crisis, Barack Obama has thoughtful, well-formulated proposals designed to put America back on track—and make the American dream a real possibility again for working families. That’s why it is so gravely distressing to see the nefarious efforts of those who would turn back the clock in America by fueling racial fears and inciting racial conflicts around Senator Obama’s candidacy.

Americans need serious debate about how best to meet the challenges of our ailing economy. We need real, workable proposals on how to fix our health care system and make college more affordable for our kids. It’s critically important for the U.S. to regain its place as a leader on the world stage. Yet there are those who persist in distracting us with divisive and morally repugnant racial fear mongering.

In this election, working people have an incredible opportunity to turn our country around. We can reject the politics of division and conflict. We can say: “Not this time, not this election.”  Union members know better than most, as Martin Luther King says, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” We know that an injury to one is an injury to all. And grave injury is caused by those who would demean this election with racial rhetoric.

Let’s focus the debate on the prospects for a better tomorrow in which all workers will have their rights protected and their hard work respected; a tomorrow with affordable health care for all Americans, economic prosperity and national security. If we conduct a responsible national debate, we can elect a new president who will bring about positive economic change—a president who will not put corporate interests above those of working people. We have a clear choice on the November presidential ballot. Barack Obama offers change and hope—he brings a commitment to the cause of working people. With his leadership, we can change America, and restore the American dream.

July 29, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustible Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.

 

The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.

 

Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

 

In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.

 

Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

 

The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.

 

July 28, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustile Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.

The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.

Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.

Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.

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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, immigration 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.

July 21, 2008

UFCW President Announces Aggressive New Health Care Mobilization Project

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) today pledged to aggressively mobilize its 1.3 million members in support of the newly-formed Health Care for America Now, an unprecedented coalition of organizations across the political spectrum that have come together to call for affordable, quality health care for all Americans.

UFCW International President Joe Hansen announced at the official launch of the historic campaign in Washington, D.C., that the UFCW would join the coalition of allied labor unions, medical associations, small businesses and community groups that have united in response to America’s health care crisis.

“While there may be gridlock in Washington, there is consensus in America,” said Hansen. “The American people want solutions–not sound bites. We need health care for America now.”

The event was part of series of Health Care for American Now launch activities taking place in 52 Cities across the U.S. today, including in 37 state capitals.

UFCW members are at the forefront of the fight for better health care. It is an issue that they strongly advocate for every time they sit down at the bargaining table–and just like most Americans, they believe that working people shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of health care reform alone.

From 2003 to 2006, President Hansen served as an active member of the congressionally mandated Citizens’ Health Care Working Group. For nearly two years, the group held an unprecedented nationwide dialogue with the American people on the health care system before reporting its findings to the President and Congress.

The report documents a remarkable consensus from the American people on health care reform. Americans want affordable, quality health care coverage for all—and they want it now.

The UFCW has heard America’s call for change and will continue the fight as a proud member of the Health Care for America Now coalition. United, the coalition members will make sure the voices of average Americans are not drowned out in Washington by that of the insurance industry and big business.

July 19, 2008

CASE FARMS POULTRY WORKERS FORCED TO WITHHOLD THEIR LABOR

(Winesburg, Ohio) More than one hundred frustrated poultry workers walked off the job at Case Farms poultry plant yesterday in a fight for living wages and respect on the job. Over a year ago these same workers chose United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 880 to be their voice on the job and to bargain a fair and living wage for them.
After months of hard bargaining and despite the best efforts of a Federal Mediator, Case Farms refused to budge from its tiny economic offer that would pay them less than their non-union counterparts in North Carolina who do the same work.  Faced with this unreasonable and unfair position, the workers voted overwhelmingly (294-12) to reject the offer and to withhold their labor.
Despite this clear message, the company continued to stonewall in negotiations. A privately owned company, Case Farms has decided to make non-union status and profits for owner more important than paying a fair and living wage to its Winesburg workers. After the company committed numerous alleged unfair labor practices, the workers decided that they were left with no choice, that the company had no interest in treating them fairly, and that the only thing they could do was withhold their labor until the company decided to be fair to them.
Chicken is the number one meat product in the U.S. yet Case Farms is paying its dedicated workforce a paltry $8.10 per hour, on average, which translates into an annual income of $16,000 — 20% below the federal poverty level for a family of four.
Poultry processing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. The dangerous conditions faced by workers in the poultry industry have been documented by academics, the media and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Poultry workers typically perform physically demanding, repetitive work, during which they stand for long periods of time at fast moving production lines while using ultra-sharp knives and scissors. Working in extreme temperatures they often make up to 40,000 repetitive cutting motions per shift.
In addition to the plant in Winesburg, OH, Case Farms operates poultry plants in Morganton and Goldsboro North Carolina. Case has a history of forcing workers to withhold their labor in order to achieve fair treatment by management.
The UFCW International Union represents more than 1.3 million members in the U.S. and Canada, including 250,000 workers in the poultry and meatpacking industries. UFCW Local 880 represents more than 22,000 workers across Northern Ohio including supermarket workers and food processing workers.
June 27, 2008

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union President Joe Hansen Statement on Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart’s announcement yesterday that it would notify its employees about the EITC is another company effort to polish its image.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) believes the Earned Income Tax Credit is a valuable program for workers. And we applaud efforts that educate and encourage those eligible to apply for it.

But when the world’s largest corporation, when it has revenues in excess of $300 billion, when it has a lengthy and notorious history of shifting its employment costs onto American taxpayers, and when its employment rolls are rife with workers earning wages that put them below the poverty line, it is wrong to take the stage with that company and provide cover for its mistreatment of workers and irresponsible practices.

The facts on Wal-Mart are well documented. The company’s meager wages and benefits push workers onto government assistance programs at taxpayer expense to the tune of billions every year.

Wal-Mart is in the midst of an aggressive campaign to change its public persona. But what it needs to change are its corporate practices. Shouldn’t Wal-Mart begin by taking responsibility for its own workers?

It is more than unfortunate that there are those who would participate in this sham, and it is deeply troubling that elected officials would allow Wal-Mart to cloud their good legislative intentions.

June 26, 2008

Grocery Workers in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama Achieve Fair Agreement with Kroger Company

Grocery workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1995 have reached a tentative agreement with their employer, the Kroger Company. The agreement covers 9000 members working at 92 Kroger stores (and one freestanding pharmacy) in middle and eastern Tennessee, southern Kentucky, and northern Alabama.

UFCW Local 1995 members stuck together in solidarity through months of negotiations to achieve a fair contract with Kroger—one with affordable, quality health care, wages that pay the bills, and a secure retirement. They reached that goal with an agreement that includes:

  • Significant health care improvements for full-time and part-time workers;
  • Pension security; and
  • Significant improvements in wages in all areas of the agreement.

Workers will be meeting to vote on ratification of the agreement Saturday, June 28th through July 2nd.

Across the country in 2007-2008, UFCW members working at Kroger and other grocery stores nationwide have reached fair agreements making grocery jobs good, middle class jobs—the kind workers can raise a family on. For more on UFCW grocery negotiations across the country, please visit the Grocery Workers United website at www.groceryworkersunited.org.

 

June 26, 2008

UFCW Staff Testifies Before House Subcommittee on Steps to Improve Chemical Plant Safety and Security

Washington, D.C. –  John S. Morawetz, Director of Health and Safety at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s (UFCW) International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC), testified before the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection today about steps that can be taken to improve chemical plant safety and security for workers and surrounding communities in light of the recent explosion of a Goodyear plant in Houston earlier this month. The ICWUC represents more than 20,000 chemical workers in 32 states.

Morawetz, who has investigated workplace hazards, injuries and deaths since the early 1980s, testified about the industrial hazards chemical plant workers face on a daily basis, including those who work with petroleum and coal products, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals in smelters and refineries, as well as with natural gas distribution and in power plants.  He called on Congress to increase funding for the Chemical Safety Board and enforce stronger OSHA standards so that incidents linked to chemical hazards can be fully investigated and standards are followed and enforced.  He also underlined the importance of worker involvement in chemical plant security plans, as well as the need for effective training requirements, strong whistleblower protections and safer technology in this industry.

“Chemical workers know first hand how a plant works, what chemicals are used, and any particular facilities’ weaknesses,” Morawetz said.  “All these responsibilities make chemical workers the first line of defense and explain why we strongly believe vast improvements can and must be made in this nation’s chemical security.”

Morawetz also spoke about the UFCW’s commitment to improving workplace safety for all workers by enforcing existing regulations and passing stronger legislation.

“Unions have a proud history of fighting for the right to a safe workplace and for the basic right for workers to return home after a day on the job as healthy as when they left,” he said.  “From workers who are concerned about their safety and health, to union negotiators seeking health and safety contract language, to unions investigating health hazards or testifying in support of legislation, we are actively involved in making our workplaces safer.”

For a copy of Morawetz’s testimony, please contact press@ufcw.org.