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April 26, 2004

Kroger Risks Revenue Hemorrhage With Attack On Worker Health Benefits

Workers In Houston, Cincinnati, Louisville, Las Vegas, Northern California, Denver, Seattle And Detroit Mobilize For Fight To Save Health Care

Kroger stockholders were recently stunned when the company forked over more than a $100 million to the supermarket operator’s leading competitors as a payoff from the more than 4 month long Southern California grocery strike. Waging war on workers’ health benefits doesn’t come cheaply, and the nation’s largest supermarket chain had to pay the bill after it agreed to cover its competitor’s losses when it joined with Safeway and Albertsons to take on 70,000 Southern California members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) in a fight over affordable health care.

Kroger did not limit its revenue loss to California. It also sent workers into the streets and its customers off to its competitors when it forced a strike over health benefits in West Virginia last year. Now, Kroger is risking a revenue hemorrhage as its short-sighted, benefit-busting demands could send tens of thousands of the company’s workers into the streets from Houston to Seattle, and from Cincinnati to Denver. The majority of Kroger’s revenue stream could dry up if the company fails to reach agreements that maintain affordable health care.

“”Kroger has consistently underestimated workers’ resolve in the fight for affordable health care. For the company health care benefits are a matter of dollars and cents, for workers health care benefits are a matter of life and death,”” said UFCW International Collective Bargaining Director Pat O’Neill.

In a nationwide effort, the UFCW International is systematically laying the groundwork in preparation for the possibility of multi-city strikes. From picket signs to community outreach, coordinated programs are being planned to mobilize support for affordable health care, as well as to assist the workers forced to strike to keep their health care.

While the details vary from city to city, the thrust of the company’s attack is to effectively eliminate affordable health care in the future. Houston is currently the hot spot for a potential strike. Company demands there would impose costs that would push health care out of reach for many workers, and could leave substantial number of workers without any coverage at all.

“”Kroger needs to make a commitment to maintaining affordable benefits. The workers have made record profits for the company. Some of those profits now should be used to maintain the workers’ benefits. Attempts to eliminate affordable health care will only lead to the elimination of profits, customers and market share. Workers will negotiate in good faith to keep the stores open and the customers served, but workers will fight for health care,”” stated O’Neill.

April 26, 2004

Wal-Mart Workers Want A Voice

A majority of workers at a Wal-Mart store in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada, signed membership cards for a voice on the job with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and have applied to Saskatchewan Labor Relations Board for certification with UFCW Local 1400. It is the second UFCW certification request for workers at Saskatchewan Wal-Mart in the last two months.

“The UFCW offers an alternative for Wal-Mart workers that means better wages, working conditions, and a voice on the job,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “More Wal-Mart workers, than ever before, are standing up, and they’re standing up with the UFCW.”

The giant retailer has a long history of reprehensible employment practices. The company is facing charges by women employees for sex discrimination that would be the largest class-action suit in US history. Wal-Mart has been found guilty of cheating workers out of their pay. Pending actions by workers, in numerous states, are raising similar charges, claiming Wal-Mart fails to pay them for all the time they work.

The company has shifted more jobs to countries where sweatshops are prevalent than any other corporation. It has a record of disregarding community wishes, bringing its vast resources into play in an attempt to muscle its stores into neighborhoods where community members have expressly told the company it was not welcome.

In light of growing global resistance to company practices, Wal-Mart launched a recent massive program, not to improve its practices, but to wage a PR campaign to improve its image.

Wherever Wal-Mart operates, workers want and need a voice to force the company to live up to the conditions it says it practices in its PR campaigns.

“The number of workers seeking a voice at Wal-Mart will grow throughout North America,” said Hansen. “The UFCW is an international union with a North American strategy. That strategy is long-term, committed, and getting stronger every day.”

April 23, 2004

White House Dishes Up Pay Cuts For American Workers

George W. Bush’s new overtime rules pick up his pace for lowering living standards for American workers and putting more dollars into the bank accounts of his corporate campaign donors. The most anti-worker White House in the modern political era just gave workers their biggest pay cut in history. Millions of workers could potentially lose thousands of dollars each year as a result of the Bush Administrations actions.

Bush shoved the pay cut through over the objections of both Houses of Congress and millions of workers. The rewritten overtime rules open the door for employers to reclassify jobs so that workers who’ve always earned overtime would now become exempt. Lead workers in grocery store deli, dairy, produce, and meat departments could now be classified as managers and have their pay slashed under the new Department of Labor (DOL) regulations. Health care industry technicians and nurses, among millions of other workers, could also be reclassified out of overtime pay.

“American workers have received nothing but double dealing and disappointment from the Bush White House,” said United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) President Joe Hansen. “That’s precisely the case with the DOL’s 500 pages of “clarifying” regulations on overtime—the only thing they clarify is how completely special corporate interests dominate the Bush Administration.”

Under George W. Bush’s leadership, the US economy has lost more jobs than at any period since the Great Depression. Forty-four million people—the overwhelming majority of them from working families—have no health insurance. Health care costs are skyrocketing. Millions of jobs are being shipped overseas while the number of working poor in this country, struggling in low-wage, no-benefit jobs, is increasing.

“Obviously, George W. Bush surveyed the state of working America and concluded it was time for a pay cut,” Hansen added.

The UFCW is mobilizing a worker-to-worker movement to inform UFCW members about the President’s pay cut. Working people will hold the Bush Administration accountable this November for four years of hostile policies aimed at lowering working family living standards.

April 13, 2004

Working America Wants Answers

(Washington, DC) At tonight’s prime time press conference, President George Bush claims to be prepared to address the important issues facing Americans.  But working families won’t be in that room.  President Bush won’t be facing the tough questions that most Americans deserve to have answered, such as:

  • You are the first President since Herbert Hoover to preside over a period of job loss.    Among the few parts of our economy where jobs are growing, they are by and large, part-time, low-wage, no benefit service jobs — Wal-Mart jobs.  How do you plan to turn around the US economy and create jobs that can support families?
  • Your administration has been attempting to rewrite overtime regulations which could cause the largest pay cut in American history and cut overtime for 8 million workers.   Both the House and Senate are on record in opposition to this regulation.  Will you be going forward with this regulation before the November election?
  • 44 million Americans are uninsured, with that number growing every day.   More large companies are cutting benefits for workers.  Supermarket workers in Southern California were forced to strike for five months to protect their families’ health benefits – costing the companies billions of dollars in lost sales.  What are you planning to do to make sure health insurance is available and affordable for all Americans?
  • The minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 1996.   Do you favor raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7 an hour as proposed in the Senate?
  • Your Administration claimed hundreds of thousands of new jobs were created in March.   Tens of thousands of those jobs were striking supermarket workers returning to work.  How can you take credit for this as job growth when it was simply the end of a strike?

Working Americans deserve answers from their President.   It is time for the Bush Administration to offer up a real plan for economic recovery.

April 5, 2004

Kroger and UFCW Locals 455 and 408 Agree to Extend Contract

Kroger and UFCW Local 455 and 408 Agree to Extend Contract

After weeks of marathon bargaining sessions, UFCW Locals 455 and 408 and Kroger supermarkets have signed an extension to the current collective bargaining agreement that covers 11,000 workers in the Houston area. The two parties have been working with a federal mediator who recommended the extension in order to permit bargaining to continue.

Due to the complexity of the issues, particularly health care coverage, the extension will allow both parties to continue to make steady progress toward a solution.

The contract has been extended to April 24, 2004 and will continue day to day thereafter.

Both parties also agreed to a media blackout of issues being discussed at the table.

April 2, 2004

Kroger Workers Ready to Hold the Line for Health Care

Background Briefing:

The Facts and Faces Behind the Potential Strike at Kroger
Saturday, April 3, 2004
5:00 p.m.
UFCW Local 455
121 Northpoint Dr., Houston United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)

Locals 455 and 408 will provide a background briefing on the issues and individuals that are involved in contract negotiations with Kroger supermarkets in the Houston area. A research analyst will be available with data to show Kroger’s rising market share and healthy financial picture.

The workers and their families will also discuss the issues and the impact that the contract dispute will have on their lives. Health care is a top concern to workers and they are ready to hold the line against draconian company demands for cuts to health benefits.

The company’s latest proposal does not, in fact, offer improvements to workers’ health plan but would take away health coverage for 40% of the workforce. Experts will share more details about the health care plan and the impact on workers. The UFCW and Kroger continue to negotiate.

The contract covering 11,000 Kroger employees expires Saturday at midnight. Workers will be voting on the company’s proposal at two meetings at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

March 4, 2004

Hansen Takes Charge at 1.4 Million Member Food and Commercial Workers Union

Milwaukee Meatcutter Brings History Of Commitment to Diversity, Activism, Organizing And Global Solidarity To Union’s Top Leadership Position

Doug Dority Retires After Four Decades Of Union Building

 Joe Hansen, on far left, at a rally for the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride …more

A Milwaukee meatcutter took charge today as International President of the 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). Joe Hansen, member of UFCW Local 653— rank-and-file activist, volunteer organizer, union representative, regional director, the head of the union’s packinghouse division, and the UFCW’s International Secretary -Treasurer since 1997— was the unanimous choice of the union’s International Executive Board to fill the unexpired term of retiring International President Doug Dority.

Hansen, as a young worker learning a skilled trade, proudly became a member of Local 73 of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America in 1962 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His skills went beyond cutting meat. He had the ability to connect with non-union workers, win their trust and help them to organize. Hansen volunteered to spread the union message and quickly became a key part of the union’s organizing program. He was an outspoken rank-and-file activist who won election to local union office, and in 1973 became an international staff representative.

After the 1979 merger of the Meat Cutters and the Retail Clerks that created the UFCW, Hansen rose rapidly in the new union serving as an organizer, an executive assistant to a Regional Director, and then as Director of the North Central region. He won election as an International Vice President in 1986. In 1990, Hansen was assigned as Pacific Region 14 Director and then as Director of the UFCW’s Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division.

Joe Hansen has always made the connection between aggressive organizing and improving the lives of union members. The more organized workers in a community or industry, the greater their clout at the bargaining table. From his own experience, Hansen focuses on motivating and activating union members to organize other workers. “”We have more than a million potential organizers with our membership. Our challenge is to inspire, empower and lead our members in organizing the millions of non-union workers. Organizing activism is first on our agenda for the future,”” said Hansen.

Joe Hansen was one of the labor movement’s first leaders to recognize the importance of organizing and representing the new wave of immigrants that was filling the packinghouses and food processing plants of the Midwest and South. Hansen saw that the future of his union would be men and women of many colors, speaking a multitude of languages, and coming from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. “”Solidarity among all workers— regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or immigration status— is the foundation of our movement, and our strength to meet the challenges of the future,”” according to Hansen. He is a leader within the AFL-CIO for addressing the needs of immigrant workers, and serves on the Federation’s Immigration Committee.

Hansen’s vision of the future sees global solidarity as the counter to corporate globalization. He was elected to serve as President of Union Network International (UNI) at its first World Congress in Berlin in 2001. UNI is an international labor organization representing 15 million workers in 900 unions in more than 100 countries across the globe. “”As corporations spread their reach around the world, we must extend our hands in solidarity to workers in all lands. Organized workers are the most powerful force in the world. Solidarity works worldwide,”” Hansen has pointed out in speeches in the U.S. and abroad.

Hansen has played a key role in support of local union collective bargaining. He has advised local unions, challenged employers, rallied supporters and walked picket lines. He has seen over the past decade that rising health benefit costs are the number one cause of strikes. Hansen has reached a firm conclusion on the single most important legislative and political issue: “”We must have comprehensive national health care reform. No worker should be forced onto the picket line to save health care for their families. November 2004 is the time to elect a President and Congress that will protect health care benefits for working families.””

Hansen, as well the other members of the UFCW International Executive Board, thanked Doug Dority for his service and commitment to the UFCW. Hansen said on behalf of the entire Board, “”Doug Dority is a union builder and an organizer. He is part of the soul of this union. He taught a generation of leaders and representatives that our commitment is always first and foremost to the members. We are stronger, more effective and better prepared for the future because of Doug Dority. He will forever be our brother.””

After more than 40 years of union service that began when he organized the grocery store where he worked in Lynchburg, Virginia, Dority, UFCW International President since 1994, decided to retire from his union office. He will continue, however, to work with labor and other progressive organizations on efforts to win national health care reform. Dority had planned to announce his retirement in January, but delayed retiring until the Southern California strike had been successfully resolved.

Michael E. Leonard, International Executive Vice President and International Director of Strategic Programs, also announced his retirement effective March 2, 2004.

The UFCW International Executive Board elected Anthony M. Perrone as International Secretary-Treasurer, William T. McDonough as International Executive Vice President, and Michael J. Fraser as International Executive Vice President. Perrone currently serves as International Executive Vice President and International Director of Organizing. McDonough currently serves as International Vice President and Region 8 Director. Fraser currently serves as International Vice President and Canadian National Director. Sarah Palmer Amos continues to serve as International Executive Vice President and International Director of Collective Bargaining and completes the five-person International Executive Committee.

(Under the UFCW International Constitution, the International Executive Board is charged with electing a replacement for a vacancy in the office of International President. The UFCW Executive Board consists of 52 International Vice Presidents, primarily local union leaders. Hansen’s term will run through 2008.)

February 27, 2004

Statement of UFCW Int’l President Doug Dority On the Southern California Strike

Today, I am pleased to join with the officers of the seven Southern California UFCW local unions in their announcement of a tentative agreement in the longest major strike in the history of the UFCW, the largest and longest strike in the history of the supermarket industry, and the first major strike of the 21st century.

It is also one of the most successful strikes in history.

After five months, the picket lines remain strong, our members remain united, and customers continue to honor the workers’ picket lines costing the supermarket conglomerates billions of dollars in revenue.

Every day, support for the fight for affordable health care grows stronger. Community and religious leaders have put their bodies on the line in acts of civil disobedience. There have been scores of arrests from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay area to Baltimore, Maryland. There are daily rallies, demonstrations, picket lines and handbilling from Seattle and Portland to Washington, DC. The Southern California supermarket strike has become a national cause.

The men and women on the picket lines are genuine heroes. Their sacrifice for affordable family health care has motivated and activated workers across the nation. I am honored to be part of their union, and I am humbled as well as inspired by their dedication, strength and selflessness.

These members will never be forgotten. They will always be honored and respected. We owe them a debt of gratitude. They have sent a message to employers everywhere that attempts to eliminate health care benefits will come at a high price. Workers will not sit idle as their families are denied health care protection. Workers will stand united and fight for health care.

In Southern California, workers were given no choice but to fight. UFCW members have never faced, nor has nay UFCW-represented employer ever made a more extreme or drastic demand—a demand that would have effectively eliminated affordable health care benefits, as did the supermarket employers in Southern California. The UFCW, its local unions and its members rose to the challenge. The employers never believed that workers could sustain a five-month strike. The employers completely underestimated the determination and fortitude of their employees.

Through their struggle, the striking and locked out workers have performed a service for the whole country. They have sounded the alarm for all of America—your health care benefits at work are at risk. If the supermarket giants—profitable, growing Fortune 50 mega-corporations—can launch an attack on health care benefits, then every employer is sure to follow. They have sounded the alarm that the American health care system is ready to collapse.

In one year, over 2 million lost health insurance. That’s over 6,000 workers a day.

The fight here has given us a national call to action.

We must have national health care reform. No one company, no one union, no industry or group of workers alone can fix the health care system. We can patch it up. We can protect our members for another contract term, but the system continues to falter, exacting an increasing cost on both workers and employers and leaving more and more families without health care.

Now is the time for action. 2004 is the year to put health care reform on the political agenda and demand that every candidate for office commits to comprehensive, affordable health insurance for every working family.

No worker should ever again be forced to choose between a paycheck and health care benefits. No worker should ever again be forced into the streets for five months to protect health care for their families.

The UFCW will lead the fight for health care reform. And, I believe, with members like our Southern California members—the UFCW will win that fight.

February 26, 2004


Senator John Kerry will be on the picket line with UFCW members today at 1:00 p.m. at the Vons store at 710 Broadway (Lincoln & Broadway) in Santa Monica, California to highlight his commitment to national health care reform.

Access to affordable family health benefits is the issue that forced 70,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) on strike against Safeway/Vons, Ralphs/Kroger and Albertsons for more than 5 months. The Southern California supermarket strike has sounded the alarm to America that our health care system is in crisis and that all workers are at risk of losing benefits.

Striking Vons worker Cathi Shafer said, “”I’m proud to have John Kerry join our picket line today because he is committed to the principle that health care is a right—that if you work hard, you’ve earned the right to health care. This fight is about our future. We are not going to give up on our future. And John Kerry is not going to give up on the future for working families.””

Melissa Larson has been walking the picket line with her husband said, “”John Kerry put his life on the line for his country. He wasn’t afraid to fight for America. He will fight for affordable health care for America’s working families.”” John Kerry will call the striking workers American heroes for their courage and commitment to hold the line for America’s health care.

Senator Kerry was endorsed by the UFCW and the AFL-CIO last week for his commitment to worker issues like health care. UFCW members have made tremendous personal sacrifices during the 19-week battle, relying on food banks to feed their families, applying to hardship funds to keep a roof over their heads and supporting one another to keep picket lines strong. Supporters from across the country have poured millions of dollars in donations to the striking supermarket workers and mobilized thousands of supporters to actions at Safeway and Albertsons stores across the country.

February 3, 2004

Renewed Support Re-Energizes SoCal Supermarket Strike

From Portland to Philadelphia, Seattle to Washington DC and Baltimore, community members and religious leaders are rallying at Safeway stores, demanding the company end its efforts to effectively eliminate health benefits for grocery workers. Concerned community members are asking customers to help hold the line and not shop Safeway. Workers, backed by their communities, have vowed to take the fight to save health care everywhere Safeway operates.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has also launched a radio campaign in these areas. The spots, featuring two Southern California workers on strike, also ask customers to shop elsewhere, and to join the fight to save affordable health care by picketing their local Safeway store. Text of the radio spots is below.
Over 15,000 March on Northern and Southern California Safeway Stores
After nearly four months on the picket line, workers continue to stay strong in the fight to save health benefits at work. In Los Angeles, union members, grocery workers, community leaders, and clergy members gathered at the Great Western Forum and marched on a nearby Vons store. In a demonstration of solidarity, several other unions pledged generous donations to help the striking and locked-out workers in their time of need. The California Teachers Association donated $500,000 for a statewide radio campaign asking customers not to shop at the struck and locked-out chains, while the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) pledged to raise $1 million to cover the cost of health benefits for the workers who lost their health care on January 1.
At the same time, a demonstration at an Oakland Safeway drew hundreds of supporters. Several participated in a symbolic sit-in, including Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente. De La Fuente and 14 other community, religious, and labor leaders were arrested for refusing to disperse and blocking the entrance.
Community members are backing grocery workers in an unprecedented showing of support. Workers in every industry know that, if Safeway (Vons), Kroger (Ralphs), and Albertsons can succeed in effectively eliminating health benefits for their workers, then all workers’ health benefits nationwide stand to disappear.
Safeway CEO Under Pressure
Steve Burd May Be Forced to Resign
Safeway CEO Steve Burd, the mastermind behind the effort to effectively eliminate health care for working families, is feeling the heat from investors. Safeway’s business has continued to slump because of his poor management decisions, including his adamant attempts to end affordable health care. Burd’s mismanagement has led to a combined loss of over a billion dollars at Southern California Vons, Albertsons, and Kroger stores. Industry analysts are concerned that Burd’s tactics have permanently damaged the Safeway brand name, and alienated the very same workers who have made the company profitable.
The “”Grocery Workers Justice Pilgrimage”” brought nearly 300 religious leaders and workers to Burd’s home in the affluent Bay Area suburb of Alamo last week. Participants prayed outside of Burd’s gated community, asking the CEO to stop turning a blind eye to the suffering he is causing. They also brought over 10,000 messages from Southern California workers asking Burd to help save affordable family health care, instead of eliminating it.
California Attorney General Sues Grocery Chains
Mutual Aid Pact Allegedly Violates Anti-Trust Laws
California Attorney General Bill Lockyear announced Saturday a lawsuit against Safeway (Vons), Kroger (Ralphs) and Albertsons. The three chains entered into a profit-sharing pact at the start of the strike. The attorney general’s office has stated it believes the pact is in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The agreement, which has not been released to the public, is believed the have hurt customers by discouraging competitive pricing among the chains. The attorney Lockyear addressed thousands of supporters about the lawsuit at the Los Angeles rally this weekend.
Hi, I’m Maria Patris. As a breast cancer survivor, health care is a matter of life and death. Now, I and 70,000 other supermarket workers have been forced to strike because Safeway wants to take away health benefits. I’m not giving up—health care is worth fighting for. If Safeway can take away my health benefits, then Safeway could take away health benefits from families in your area.
Join us at your local Safeway store and help hold the line for affordable health care.
A message from the working men and women of the UFCW.
Hi, I’m Gary Gallucci. My dream is to give my kids a better future. Now, Safeway is threatening my dream. I and 70,000 other Southern California supermarket workers have been forced to strike to save our health benefits. I’m not giving up—family health care is worth fighting for. If Safeway can take away our health benefits, Safeway could take away health benefits from families in your area.
A message from the working men and women of the UFCW.