Collective Bargaining


A Shining Light in the South: UFCW Organizer Rose Turner

In 1981, Rose Turner was a nursing home worker in the deep south. When workers decided to try and organize to join UFCW Local 1529 that year, Rose immediately got involved, hoping to change the working conditions: “At that time there was no family medical leave. Women–when they got pregnant, they went out and came back [after giving birth] and they didn’t have a job. You were penalized for getting pregnant, because you had no job. One woman even slipped in the kitchen a broke her knee, [and in order for her to not lose her job] her daughter had to come work while she was out.”

Rose also wanted to change the fact that the workers had no say on the job. “At that time, what they said was the gospel, and it didn’t make any difference what you had to say. They were always right. But the icing on the cake,” says Rose, is when the nursing home’s census went down, and “they called all the oldest workers in and said ‘You all’ve got to go’. Their seniority meant nothing. One woman had been there for over 25 years, but it was just who they liked [that mattered].”

But with the union, much turned for the better, and the workers were able to get a raise.

Knowing that the collective voice of the union would be stronger with more workers, Rose says she “got a group of ladies together and we would go to the other nursing homes and tell them what we needed to do to organize,” and for the next several years she worked towards organizing other neighboring nursing homes in her community and surrounding areas of Arkansas and Tennessee.

Over those couple of years, Rose’s hard work didn’t go unnoticed. She was soon contacted by the local and was offered a position as an organizer. Hesitant but wanting to try it out, Rose was scheduled to go on 90-day union leave in order to do so, which her nursing home contract allowed for. However, the day before she was to go on leave, her employer claimed that since she was one of the oldest workers at the nursing home, she couldn’t go on leave. Fed up with her employer’s games, Rose decided to go all-in to be an organizer and continue to help make a difference in other people’s lives. “After meeting with the reps at the union–I had heard about unions and seen different things–but just seeing the importance of it, and once I got started, I was sent down to Mississippi and saw people in an even worse condition then we had been at the nursing homes.”

Rose Turner of Local 1529

Rose Turner of Local 1529

The horrible conditions in Mississippi that Rose refers to were that of catfish workers: “They weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom, except once a day. If they went and stayed over five minutes they were being written up. People were losing their thumbs and whole hands [on the lines]. And they didn’t know that the company would keep them on payroll for only a year and then let them go.”

Through her organizing efforts, Rose has worked for more than 18 years to change conditions such as the ones the catfish and nursing home employees experienced, to help give a voice to the workers.

Looking back, Rose says she feels good about “her nursing homes.” She continues to work on organizing campaigns for nursing homes and other industries in the south, and is currently in Tupelo, Mississippi to organize nursing home workers at Golden Living.

“In the south, the minimum wage ain’t nothin’ but 7.25, but none of my nursing homes make minimum wage–in fact, I’ve got some that make twice minimum wage, plus! I feel good about that.” Thanks to their UFCW contracts, the nursing home workers get raises every year. Rose also notes that “they know how much vacation there’s gonna be, and how much sick days they got (which they never had before). So I feel good because I want to know that I wasn’t the only one that progressed or did good because I was in the union–I want people that come behind me to enjoy the benefits, because if it wasn’t for the people before me, I would never have the chance or the opportunity to do what I do today. I wanna know that when I’m gone, people are enjoying the fruit of my labor. I want them to know that it’s not just about me, but everybody.”

Rose always comes back to those who came before her in the fight for civil and worker’s rights: “People paved the way, and we need to pave the way for others to come.” She also notes how intertwined the movements are, saying that “people realize that civil rights have a got a lot to do with workers rights–it’s just like faith and work–you can’t have one without the other, it just ain’t gonna work. You can have faith but without work behind it, it’s no good, and you can have work, but you’ve got to have faith”.

“I’ve been on the trail a long time,” says Rose, of her involvement in the union. Rose is eligible to retire, but she’s not quite ready yet: “When I retire I wanna know that I have done all that I can do. I’ve got a few other contracts and other things I want to [see through].”

Rose and the others who continue to fight for workers rights are a bright spot in the south, which has traditionally been hostile towards unions. Its thanks to workers and organizers like them that the worker movement is spreading–workers in Chatanooga, TN recently came close to organizing with UAW at the VW plant, and Moral Mondays have spread from Raleigh, NC to cities across the country to bring awareness to social justice issues. Its proof that when people stand together, change it inevitable.



UFCW Minority Coalition Kicks Off Trailblazers Publication with Tribute to Addie Wyatt

The UFCW Minority Coalition is an organization made up of UFCW members dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion within the labor movement. To help celebrate Black History Month, we’re sharing the Minority Coalition’s first edition of their Trailblazer series. The UFCW Minority Coalition Trailblazer Series is an educational resource that commemorates the work and life achievements of UFCW union leaders of color who helped build the American labor movement and led the way in the struggle for justice and equal rights.

UFCW Minority Coalition Trailblazer Series: Awesome Addie

Awesome Addie is the first in the UFCW Minority Trailblazer Series–an account of the life of the late UFCW International Vice President Addie L. Wyatt. Beginning with Addie’s life as child in the rural south, this publication follows her story as her life transitions to the harsher urban environment in Chicago, where she eventually got hired for a company called Armour for a typing position.

It was at this job that Addie first saw the types of injustice that many workers faced–at her first day of work for Armour, she never typed a single word, and was instead ushered onto a production line, to pack stew into cans. This was an example of the company’s racist hiring practices–the color of your skin often determined what position you worked, no matter what your skill level. They also used discriminatory wage practices, paying people differently for equal work, based on the shade of their skin. Addie was outraged at these practices. The one spot of hope was that the line workers belonged to the meatpacking union, which allowed them to make higher wages than the clerical workers.

This was just the beginning of Addie’s long career, working in various factories, unions, and even becoming a Reverend. Throughout her career, Addie became more and more involved in union work and organizing. Although it was a road with many challenges, she eventually worked her way up to leadership positions within the union, striving to bring the union forward. In fact, at the age of 25, Addie became the first black woman to be elected vice president of a packinghouse workers’ local union.  A year later, she also became the first female president in her local’s history.  Addie’s friendliness, experience, and fierce determination fighting for workers rights helped her become the leader she was. For over two decades, Addie proved herself to those who didn’t take her seriously–ensuring every provision of the union contract was followed. Eventually, she said, the workers saw that it didn’t matter what color your skin was or what gender you were, because in a union, they were working to improve all workers’ rights.

Knowing that unions meant a better chance for fairness on the job, higher wages, and more benefits, Addie made union work a top priority. She also pushed for safer working conditions, seeing first-hand how dangerous factory work could be. She worked hard in negotiations to save the jobs of blacks and women, who were often the first to be fired when companies needed to downsize.

Addie Wyatt

Addie Wyatt

It is no surprise that Addie played an active role in the Civil Rights Movement, along side Martin Luther King, Jr, organizing people to take part, just like the workers she organized in the factories. She continued to work in the name of civil and workers rights, despite facing racism and being arrested for partaking in the marches.

Addie’s life was spent helping people and fighting on three fronts: for workers, for the black community, and for women. She organized protests for civil rights, pushed for equal rights for all, especially women (she was a proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment),  and empowered workers to stand up for themselves. She became the UFCW’s first African American female International Vice President, and helped oversee the union grow to 1.3 million members. Click here to read Awesome Addie in its entirety.


Member Spotlight: Gary Southall

Union Strong. What’s behind that saying? Easy–union members.

What makes a union strong, are the members: workers who stand together, are involved in their workplace and communities, and work to better the lives of all working people. This week we would like to shine a light on one of those members.

Gary Southall has worked at Kroger–as a head deli clerk, a head checker, a head frozen food clerk, and now as a cashier–in Jackson County West Virginia for 41 years. He has been a UFCW member for just as long. Coming from a union family, it seems to be in his blood: “My dad, my grampa, all the uncles–everybody union members for as long as I can remember.”

When he began working at Kroger at the age of 16, the union was already in place, however, Gary eventually got more involved with his union, and has become a true member activist over the years. Not only is Gary a Local 400 steward, but is an avid supporter of programs in his community that benefit working people and better living conditions for young people.

Local 400 member and steward Gary Southall

Local 400 member and steward Gary Southall

One such program is the Jackson County Anti-Drug Coalition, which works to reduce underage alcohol abuse and substance use among youth. He has helped garner $1500 in donations for the coalition, $500 of which is from UFCW Local 400. Gary is also a member of the Central Labor Council, and an officer with the AFL-CIO, and as part of the AFL’s national initiative, he strives to be very involved in his community, even if it doesn’t involve union members. “We just take care of each other,” Gary says of the work he does.

Gary also lobbies for the UFCW, and this week helped re-introduce a bill that will prevent the sale of alcohol through self-checkout machines. The bill’s intent is to curb the ease with which already intoxicated or underage consumers can purchase alcohol.

When talking to Gary, its clear that he really cares for the youth in his community, and wants them to have as much opportunity in life as possible. Gary, working with the West Virginia AFL-CIO, has helped promote an educational video called Labor in the Mountains, which tells the story of labor’s history in West Virginia and the coal-industry, as told by a grandfather who lived through much of it, as he answers his granddaughter’s questions. Seeing the importance of teaching students about Labor’s influence on the middle class, the group worked hard to ensure that, effective this year, the video will now be shown in all middle school and high school civics classes in Jackson County, and they are working to spread this to the curriculum of other counties as well. Similarly, Gary is also working with others to promote an award-winning book called Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type in which some literate cows leave notes for their farmer, demanding better working conditions and eventually going on strike. They are hoping to  get a copy of the book into all third grade classes in the county, as well as community libraries.

On top of helping to promote labor education for kids, Gary is also involved with a program called Reconnecting McDowell, which works to help kids living in poverty in this neighboring Appalachain county, by improving education, providing food, and helping kids find safe spaces, among many other things.

Now in his fourth year at the Leadership Academy, hosted by the AFL-CIO and the West Virginia University institute of labor studies and researches, Gary has emerged as a true leader, helping others to see why unions are so important.

Gary has been through two strikes at Kroger, earlier on in his career. It was during those times when he saw how important the union difference was: “At that time I was working part-time, and  I wasn’t making very much money–but when I went back to work after the strike, I was making double that money, which was fantastic for a young guy still in school.”

“But the point [of the union] in general, for me and for everybody, if they know it, is that you have a voice–you’re not out there by yourself, and you have someone to help you if you need help. You know your union steward–I’m a union steward and I have been for 15 or 20 years. No one can come out here and single you out, or say ‘If I don’t like ya, we’ll fire ya’ or that kind of thing.” He says that the union creates better work practices, and prevents unsafe working conditions: “you’ve got someone to say, ‘you know you can’t do that’ and if someone says ‘you need to do this or we’ll fire you’ well, no, we aren’t gonna do it if it’s not safe.”

“We’ve got welfare benefits, like pretty good insurance and I’ve got six weeks of vacation now. Industry-wide, at least my area here in West Virginia, no one else in the grocery business makes the kind of money that we make.”

But one story Gary likes to tell, to show what solidarity can do, doesn’t have anything to do with wages or benefits. “It may sound kind of silly but, I have a son who will be 36 in April. When he was 6 weeks old, Kroger came in one day, and some of us fellas had started growing beards–and I don’t remember what the reason was, but we had decided to grow beards. Anyway they came in and they told us we couldn’t grow a beard on company time, that if we wanted to grow one, we had to grow it on our own time, and shave it off for company time.” Gary says that this mandate didn’t sit too well them. “Of the people still there, and there are four in my workplace that were there when this happened–we still have that beard that we couldn’t grow 35 years ago. That was the last day I was clean-shaven, and I haven’t shaved from that day on, 35 years ago.” Gary and his coworkers stood together, in doing something as simple as not shaving off their beards, and Kroger backed off. Recently, one of Gary’s close friends and co-workers was asked to shave. His response was, “I’ll tell you what–the day that Gary Southall shaves, I’ll do it too.”

Gary is a true example of what unions can do when members are active and involved, and how they benefit the people in their communities. Stories like his inspire us to stay strong and continue sticking together in solidarity for the middle class, and all working people!


If you know a UFCW member who inspires you, or has a story worth telling, please contact Mia Perry at