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    UFCW Blog

September 26, 2006


(Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) lauded the recommendations of the Citizens Health Care Working Group (CHCWG) which shows remarkable consensus among Americans for public policy that ensures all Americans, regardless of their financial resources or health status, have affordable health care coverage. UFCW members are on the frontlines of the struggle for affordable health care for working families. Today’s report outlines what millions of working families already know – the health care system is at the tipping point and Americans want significant change to happen now.

UFCW International President Joe Hansen has served on the 15-member CHCWG since its inception in 2005. Created by an act of Congress, the CHCWG has created an historic national dialogue among Americans about their experience with the nation’s health care system.

“”I’m proud of the work we have done together as the Working Group by engaging a broad cross-section of Americans to weigh in on the health care crisis. Washington gridlock has prevented meaningful reform in the past and now the mandate is clear: Americans demand immediate and significant action,”” said Joe Hansen.

Over the past year, the CHCWG engaged the American public in groundbreaking national dialogue on health care across 37 states with more than 35,000 responses on the internet. The message was clear, and consistent with national polls: Americans want health care for all; they want the delivery system fixed, they want waste eliminated, and they are willing to pay their fair share as long as the government and businesses do the same.

The report details America’s strong desire for comprehensive health care reform and sense of urgency that changes happen immediately. The CHCWG recommendations will be presented to Congress and the President and urge action in 2007 to pass legislation that will ensure all Americans have affordable health care by 2012. The Working Group also provided immediate steps that can and should be taken to provide security for American families and access to services in their communities.

As health care costs continue to rise out of control and the number on uninsured rises, the employer based health care system is crumbling. Responsible employers shoulder a heavier burden of health care costs due to companies like Wal-Mart that refuse to pay its fair share. Companies like Wal-Mart cut costs by making basic coverage too expensive for their workers only make the problem worse.

The CHCWG recommendations provide lawmakers with a road map for fixing the system.

“”The American people want fundamental reform that brings quality health care coverage for everyone. Obviously we can’t solve the health care crisis at the bargaining table. We need a national solution to this national crisis,”” continued Hansen.

To read more about the CHCWG recommendations to Congress and the President, log on to www.ufcw4healthcare.org

September 25, 2006

Coalition Calls on USDA to Revise Bird Flu Plan

Washington, DC – A broad coalition of stakeholder groups issued a statement today criticizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan for responding to a U.S. outbreak of bird flu and called for revisions to adequately protect the public and poultry farmers.  The coalition charged that the USDA does not acknowledge the risk posed by common poultry industry practices in the emergence and spread of highly-pathogenic avian influenza.
“”The USDA is incorrectly focusing its attention on small and free-range poultry farmers,”” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
The USDA does not address industry practices that increase the risk of spreading avian influenza. “”Not only are big poultry producers housing hundreds of thousands of birds, they’re moving birds, feed, and supplies and even poultry waste to be used as fertilizer or to be fed to other animals,”” explained Hauter.
  “”Poultry workers and growers would be among the first exposed to an outbreak but USDA does not ensure appropriate protective equipment, specialized sanitation, training, human flu vaccinations and whistleblower protections for workers who detect and report sick birds “” said Mark Lauritsen of the United Food & Commercial Workers.
The plan does not address the potentially huge economic impacts for small processors and the vulnerability of the many workers at large plants if quarantines or depopulation eliminate the supply of poultry. “”The current USDA plan provides for compensation of the large poultry companies that own birds. Meanwhile, workers and farmers who contract with the companies are left completely vulnerable and stand to lose their entire livelihood,” said Andrea Whiteis, National Poultry Justice Alliance Director.
The coalition representing consumers, organic, minority and family farmers, ranchers, animal welfare advocates, contract poultry growers, poultry workers, unions, environmentalists, religious groups, social justice organizations and concerned citizens called on USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to take the following steps:
  • Protect the health and livelihoods of all poultry workers and growers;
  • Follow the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) euthanasia guidelines when destroying flocks;
  • Improve procedures for venting, dust control, and transportation and disposal of bird carcasses and waste; and
  • Extend testing, enforce immediate quarantines, and notify the facilities’ neighbors if disease is detected.
The complete statement is available online at http://www.fwwatch.org/food/avian-flu/usda-should-revise-avian-flu-plan-coalition-statement or as a pdf file including the list of signatory contact information at http://www.fwwatch.org/food/avian-flu/Avian%20Flu%20Coalition%20Statement.pdf
September 1, 2006


(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


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


(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



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.