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October 10, 2019

The UFCW sues the federal government over dangerous line speed rule

This week, the UFCW International together with UFCW Locals 663, 440 and 2 filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota seeking to stop the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new swine slaughter modernization rule, which eliminates the line speed limits in pork slaughter plants and reduces the number of Federal inspectors important for ensuring the safety of our food by 40%. Public Citizen Litigation Group represents the UFCW and local unions in the lawsuit. 

In a press release, UFCW International President Marc Perrone said the following: 

“Thousands of our members work hard every day in America’s pork plants to help families across the country put food on the table. Increasing pork plant line speeds is not only a reckless giveaway to giant corporations, it will put thousands of workers in harm’s way. This new rule would also dramatically weaken critical protections that Americans depend on to be able to select safe, healthy food to feed their families every day. The safety of America’s food and workers is not for sale and this lawsuit seeks to ensure this dangerous rule is set aside and these companies are held accountable.” 

What is “line speed?” 

Mark Nemitz, Assistant to Director of the UFCW’s Food Processing, Packing, & Manufacturing Division, and a former kill floor worker who knows what it’s like to be on the line firsthand, explained: 

A line is basically a chain that is up above you in the air about fifteen feet. On that are these trolleys, and the hog will hang on that and go past you. Currently, with inspectors there we’re running about eleven hundred and six hogs per hour, and if we were to increase that, it would cause them to go faster and we’d have to just hurry through. 

If we were to allow the line speeds to go up, we’re just putting more strain on workers’ bodies. More stressors. And it’s just not good. 

Along with the food safety aspect, when you go faster, you have less time that you can see a piece of meat to detect any foreign material or any imperfections in it. I used to work on the line on the kill floor myself and you say ‘well, I can’t add more people to a lot of places because we’re pretty squeezed tight,’ so you put another person in a tight spot, you have knives in your hands, you’re moving faster. The animals have gotten bigger over the years, too, so there’s more cutting. There’s just a lot to this other than ‘we’re just going to speed this up and it’s going to be fine.’ It’s going to cause a lot of issues. Many times, we’re working around 95% of our capacity anyway as it is, and increasing the speed would just make it so hard. I can only imagine being on the line today.” 

Taking legal action 

In May 2018, more than 6,500 UFCW members who work in pork plants submitted comments to the USDA in opposition to the proposed rule that would “increase the line speeds where they work, threatening both them and the consumers they serve.” But the USDA chose to ignore those concerns. 

“We have been objecting as the USDA prepared to promulgate this rule that allows companies to completely eliminate line speeds,” said Sarai King, Assistant General Counsel for the UFCW International. “In addition to line speed limitations, it also reduces the number of federal inspectors on the line by forty percent. When this rule came out, we were ready to challenge it immediately because we knew how badly it would affect our workers.” 

The UFCW represents the largest number of workers in the meatpacking industry in the country. The three local unions who joined with the UFCW International to bring the lawsuit all have major packing plants and represent a significant number of workers impacted by the rule. 

“We urged the USDA to consider how unsafe this rule would make our workplaces, but they refused,” saidUFCW Local 663 President Matt Utecht in Minnesota. “We had no choice but to go to court to stop a rule that will endanger the health and livelihoods of thousands of UFCW members.” 

“We have a lot of pride in the products our members produce,” saidUFCW Local 440 President Leo Kanne in Iowa. “This rule will erode the quality and safety of the food we make and feed to our own families.” 

“The USDA claims that this rule will make our food safer,” saidUFCW Local 2 President Martin Rosas in Kansas. “But our members, who have worked in the industry for years, know firsthand it makes both the food they make and the plants they work in less safe. Let’s listen to the experts who work in these plants every day instead of big corporations just looking to make even more money.” 

The complaint 

“Shockingly, USDA admitted in its rule that it simply ignored the mounds of evidence that showed its actions will harm workers, while bending over backwards to help businesses. That violates basic principles of administrative law,” saidAdam Pulver, an attorney with Public Citizen, which represents UFCW and the three locals in the case. 

Under the Administrative Procedure Actfederal agencies like the USDA have to provide reasons for what they do that are supported by logical evidence. In this case, in the face of overwhelming evidence that injuries increase when line speeds increase, the USDA ignored the evidence and went instead with what big companies wanted, allowing them to increase the line speeds with no limits at all. The lawsuit objects to the fact that the USDA ignored the risks to worker safety and reduced the number of federal inspectors, which means that food may not be adequately appraised or  properly inspected. The lawsuit asks the court to declare the rule against the law as “arbitrary and capricious,” which means that it was done without reasoned decision-making. It also asks the court to set aside the rule and prevent the USDA from further implementing it. 

BACKGROUND  

  • The USDA published a new rule for pork meat inspections which removes limits on line speeds in swine slaughter plants and turns over major meat inspection tasks from federal inspectors to meat companies. 
  • The UFCW represents about 250,000 workers in the meatpacking and food processing industries and 30,000 workers in pork plants. UFCW members handle 71 percent of all hogs slaughtered and processed in the United States. 
  • In May 2018, more than 6,500 UFCW members who work in pork plants submitted comments to the USDA in opposition to the proposed rule that would increase the line speeds where they work, threatening both them and the consumers they serve. 
  • All the UFCW locals who are parties in the lawsuit represent pork slaughter workers. UFCW Local 663 is based in Brooklyn Center, Minn.; UFCW Local 440 is based in Denison, Iowa; and UFCW Local 2 is based in Bel Aire, Kan. 
  • The Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection rule will hurt workers across the country. 

Hazards of Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection Rule:  

  • The Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection rule removes all limitations on line speeds in hog slaughter plants which will endanger the health and safety of tens of thousands of workers in the hog slaughter industry. 
  • Even at current line speeds, swine slaughter and processing workers face many job risks that can lead to severe injury, illness and death. 
  • There is no evidence that line speed increases can be done in a manner that ensures food and worker safety. 
  • In 1997, the USDA created a pilot program called the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) which allowed five hog slaughter plants to test a new food safety program.  The hog slaughter pilot program revealed serious safety issues including a Clemens food plant in Pennsylvania which reported injuries severe enough that two workers were hospitalized, and one suffered an amputation. 
  • The Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection rule includes no requirement or funding to train plant employees on inspection techniques that were previously performed by USDA inspectors and are now their responsibility. 
  • Increased line speeds will disproportionately hurt women and people of color. 

Key Facts About Swine Workers:  

  • Meatpacking workers in hog slaughter plants work in cold, wet, noisy, and slippery conditions making tens of thousands of forceful repetitive motions on each shift. 
  • Research shows that the fast pace in pork plants, coupled with the forceful and repetitive nature of most of the jobs, leads to high rates of injuries and health issues. 
  • Meatpacking workers are injured at 2.4 times the rate of other industries. These injuries result in lost time or restrictions at three times the rate of other industries and they face illness rates at 17 times the rate of other industries. 
  • The previous maximum line speed for swine was 1,106 hogs per hour. 

 

 

October 7, 2019

Good customer service is especially vital during shifts in retail technology

National Customer Service Week was first championed by the International Customer Service Association (ICSA) in 1984. It was proclaimed a national event by Congress in 1992 and is celebrated each year during the first full week of October. This year, we celebrate the value of the customer service work UFCW members do in grocery stores, pharmacies, retail outlets, and a wide range of other workplaces by taking a look at how good customer service has remained key to a business’s success despite a century of technological advances.

John Kressaty, who was President of the ICSA when the week began, said “There are two main purposes of National Customer Service Week. It lets you recognize the job that your customer service professionals do 52 weeks a year. The other purpose is to get the message across a wide range of business, government and industry that customer service is very important along with bottom line profit in running a business.”

Today, customer service is more important than ever. According to Forbes, “Today, 89% of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience – up from just 36% in 2010.“ As one of the cornerstones of customer experience, customer service is not just an old-fashioned idea that “the customer is always right,” but is what sets companies apart and helps them stand out in a field of ever-evolving retail technology.

Everything old is a new again

In the beginning of the 20th century, grocery shopping looked very different than it does today. Rather than scour the aisles themselves, customers would hand the grocery clerk a list of the items they were looking for, and the worker would go get the items while the customer waited. But all that changed in 1916 when Clarence Saunders opened the first self-service grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, in Memphis, Tennessee. The new model was advertised as offering more freedom and choice for the customer.

Old magazine ad for Piggly Wiggly with a woman shopping that reads "Now she is free to choose for herself"A century later, the same concept of “freedom” to do it yourself has been used to sell other technologies like self-checkout where the customer is expected to do the work that was once done by an employee. And in-store grocery pickup options at places like Kroger, where you can order your groceries online and then an employee will do the shopping for you, aren’t so much a new, revolutionary idea in the industry as they are a return to the way grocery shopping used to work.

Today in Memphis, new technologies are still being tested. Dynasty Brown, a UFCW Local 1529 member, works at Kroger #405 as a picker, one of the workers who shops on a customer’s behalf when the online orders come in. “I like taking the orders out and seeing the smiles on customers faces,” says Brown. A hundred years of progress in technology haven’t changed workers’ pride in providing good customer service, nor shoppers’ appreciation of someone who goes the extra mile for them.

Good technology vs. bad customer experience

As anyone who has ever stood helpless at a self-checkout while it yelled at them about an “unknown item in the baggage area” knows, the “freedom” to do the work yourself isn’t always so free feeling.

A recent article in Gizmodo, “Why Self-Checkout Is and Has Always Been the Worst,” does a pretty great job articulating the difference between good and bad technology, namely that bad technology is the stuff that gets rammed down our throats that no one really wants but we are stuck putting up with anyway:

“For every automated appliance or system that actually makes performing a task easier—dishwashers, ATMs, robotic factory arms, say—there seems to be another one—self-checkout kiosks, automated phone menus, mass email marketing—that actively makes our lives worse.

Nobody likes wading through an interminable phone menu to try to address a suspect charge on a phone bill—literally, everyone would rather speak with a customer service rep. But that’s the system we’re stuck with because a corporation decided that the inconvenience to the user is well worth the savings in labor costs.”

But as the article goes on to point out, the promised savings on labor costs for trading out real customer service is often just a long-con by the folks selling the machines.

Customers have been rejecting full automation since 1937

Though the announcement of Amazon Go, Amazon’s grocery store model intended to allow shoppers to enter and exit the store without having to make a single human interaction with anyone, made a big splash when it was announced, the first fully-automated self-service grocery store, Keedoozle, was actually opened in 1937 by the same man who started Piggly Wiggly. Unlike Piggly Wiggly, which still operates today (and where many UFCW members work), Keedoozle was a miserable failure.

Items were kept in separate glass cases so as to be easily seen and never handled. Entering customers received an aluminum “key” with a roll of ticker tape attached. They shopped the product windows as they pleased, slipping their key into slots in the displays and pressing buttons that punched Morse code-like data about their desired products. At the checkout, a shopper handed her key to the clerk, who simultaneously rung up the receipt and transmitted the key’s record to a backroom. There, workers bundled orders and sent them out to customers via conveyer belt. ‘It can’t miss. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever had,’ Saunders told Time magazine. –Americans Have Been Cursing at Automated Checkouts Since 1937

Black and white photo of a woman shopping at KeedoozleOnly it did miss, hard. The last Keedoozle closed in 1949. Saunders wasn’t deterred and went back to work to find even more ways to eliminate more jobs within the grocery store, this time by using an early computer in place of a cashier. Saunders died before the concept got off the ground.

The invisible human labor behind automation

Data & Society’s report, “The Labor of Integrating New Technologies,” finds that rather than replacing jobs, the role out of new shopping technology actually relies heavily on skilled customer service abilities of workers, but those efforts are often invisible and not compensated:

“We find that retail experiments, like self-checkout or customer-operated scanners, tend to rely on humans to smooth out technology’s rough edges. In other words, the “success” of technologies like self-checkout machines is in large part produced by the human effort necessary to maintain the technologies, from guiding confused customers through the checkout process to fixing the machines when they breakdown to quite literally searching for customers aisle by aisle when GPS systems fail. The impact of these retail technologies has generally not been one of replacing human labor. Rather, they enable employers to place greater pressures on frontline workers to absorb the frontline risks and consequences of cost cutting experiments. Much of the work that employees must do on the ground to facilitate new systems is often invisible and undervalued, even as popular perceptions of automation frame these roles as increasingly obsolete.”

The report even points out that senior employees are often needed with advanced skills in “diffusing anger” to help customers navigate new systems and all the bugs that come along with them. But in all the conversations about new technology, this work is swept to the side and seen as exceptional rather than an integral part of both roll out and continued function of self-service technologies.

The report lines up with first-hand accounts from UFCW members who work in stores where new technologies like Kroger’s Scan, Bag, Go program have been tested. Scan, Bag, Go allows shoppers to use scanners they carry around the store with them to scan products as they shop. Edith Peck, a UFCW Local 1529 member who has worked at Kroger in Memphis for the past nine years and who says providing good customer service is her favorite part of the job, says that for the most part, customers just ignore the scanners.

“I think this whole thing is Kroger’s scheme to eliminate employees to compete with automation, but at that point, why not shop at Walmart?” says Peck. “They need to understand good customer service is what is going to set us apart.”

Customer sentiment towards scan and go shopping is pretty clear in the Scan, Bag, Go app, which has a 1.9 star rating in the Google Play store. Reading the reviews paints a clear picture of why “diffusing anger” would be a skill needed to help transitioning customers.

Genuine interaction with cashiers makes us happier

Beyond just the importance to a business’s bottom line, when we talk about the elimination of customer service jobs, it’s also worth remembering to ask: what is it that we want our lives to look like?

A 2013 study, Is Efficiency Overrated?: Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect, found that that when people engage with cashiers in a genuine way (with a smile, eye contact, brief conversation, etc.), it lifts their mood and leads to an increased sense of belonging. Although people often report reluctance to have a genuine social interaction with a stranger, those interactions still are ultimately good for us. Surprise, just like exercise or eating healthier food, talking to strangers turns out to be a thing we don’t think we want but that makes our lives better when we go out and do it.

Are we comfortable with creating a society where we only interact with products and rarely with flesh and blood people? And given that the answer from most people is a resounding no, how can we effectively push back against technology and innovation that might cross that line while still embracing technology that does improve our lives? If we are so collectively stressed out that saving a few moments waiting in line at the checkout seems like a good trade for someone’s job or our own mental health, perhaps the solution isn’t in improving the efficiency of the shopping experience. Maybe it’s tackling why we’re all so stressed out to begin with.

In the meantime, thank you to all the hard-working UFCW members out there ready to help customers feel seen and appreciated in whatever ways they can, whether it’s service with a smile or repeatedly coming to our rescue at the self-checkout machines. We need you now more than ever.

 

September 12, 2019

Goodwill Workers Join Local 655 in St. Louis for a Better Life

On August 29, Goodwill Industries workers in St. Louis voted to join UFCW Local 655 for better wages and benefits. The 25 Goodwill employees work in the front and back of the store in check-out, stocking items, and collecting and storing donated items.

The workers joined our union family because they were concerned about low wages, insufficient benefits and workplace favoritism. UFCW Local 655 is focused on helping these workers build on this victory to organize workers at other Goodwill stores throughout the area.

“We could not be more proud to welcome Goodwill employees into the Local 655 family,” said UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook. “I look forward to helping them bargain the union contract that they deserve so that they can get the wages and benefits they have worked so hard for.”

August 19, 2019

Mississippi Cottonseed Co-op Workers Join ICWUC

Group of Cotton Seed Co-op-workers stand together, smilingOn June 25, Cottonseed Co-op Corporation workers in Jonestown, Miss., joined the ICWUC.

Cottonseed Co-op was previously known as Delta Oil Mill and was represented by the ICWUC until its bankruptcy and closing approximately five years ago. The cottonseed processing facility reopened approximately two years ago under the name Cottonseed Co-op, and the company rehired many of the previous employees from Delta Oil Mill.

When the workers came back to work without a union contract, they found that many of the benefits and protections they once had when they were members of the ICWUC were now gone.

These hard-working men and women knew they had earned and deserved better, so they reached out to their former union representative, Regional Director Ricky Lawrence, in early May. Lawrence sent them cards to sign to see how much interest there was at the facility and in a couple of weeks they had mailed him back signed cards for approximately 80 percent of the current employees. Organizer Ernest Perkins visited with the workers, and then contacted his organizing colleague, Lance Heasley, to come assist in the NLRB petition process.

During the petition process, the organizing team gave the company the option of having a neutral third party count the cards rather than go through with the NLRB election process. The company agreed to have a neutral third party and on June 25, the neutral party determined that 47 of the 57 employees had signed cards. The company then voluntarily recognized the ICWUC as the bargaining agent for the Cottonseed Co-op employees and agreed on a date to begin negotiating a contract.

The ICWUC is proud to welcome back these workers and looks forward to working with them in negotiating their first contract.

July 26, 2019

New Poll: Americans Strongly Oppose USDA Move to Weaken Food Safety at Pork Plants

As America’s largest private-sector union representing thousands of pork workers, UFCW works to protect the safety of the hardworking men and women at swine slaughter plants as well as the food they pack and process. A new poll released this week shows that a strong majority of Americans agree with us and oppose the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to weaken food safety standards by eliminating line speed limits and drastically reduce inspections at pork processing plants.

The recent USDA proposal would cut federal safety inspectors at processing plants by 40 percent and would allow the slaughter line speeds to run at any speed the company wants.

Both of these changes would endanger the safety of these workers and the food millions of Americans across the country count on to feed their families every day.

According to the poll from Hart Research Associates, 64 percent of Americans “opposed the USDA’s proposal to eliminate the speed limits on pig slaughter lines.” Opposition was strong across all party lines with 69 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Independents, and 58 percent of Republicans agreeing that speed limits should remain in place.

Poll respondents in the Midwest, where a large portion of the pork industry is based, expressed even stronger disapproval of the proposal, with 70 percent opposing the proposed changes to plant safety requirements.

Just last month, UFCW President Marc Perrone issued a statement in opposition to the proposal:

“For over 100 years, USDA inspectors have played a vital role in ensuring the safety of our pork. This change to USDA meat inspection rules would dramatically weaken the critical protections that Americans depend on to be able to select safe, healthy food to feed their families every day.

“Shifting the responsibility onto pork workers, instead of the USDA inspectors who are specifically trained for this critical job, is needlessly reckless and dangerous. Our members in pork plants work incredibly hard already and stand with families across the country to demand USDA keep our food safe and let inspectors do their job.”

We stand in agreement with Americans across the country deeply concerned by this USDA proposal that threatens the safety of workers at these plants, as well as the safety of the pork products for consumers in the United States and around the world.

 

 

July 22, 2019

Co-op workers in Minneapolis raise wages through union membership

Congratulations to the members of UFCW Local 1189 who work at the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis on ratifying a new contract that raises wages and improves benefits.

UFCW Local 1189 members at The Wedge Co-op in MinneapolisThe three-year contract, which was ratified by an overwhelming majority of the members, includes a wage scale that adjusts each year of the contract to comply with the new Minneapolis minimum wage increases. The new contract also includes orientation language that allows a steward to spend up to 30 minutes with each new member on paid time to explain the benefits of union membership, as well as successorship and relocation language, which was a top priority for the hardworking men and women of the co-op.

“The wage scale in the contract makes me think of Paul Wellstone and a belief I share with him that ‘we all do better when we all do better,’” said Nathan Coombes, who served as a member of the negotiating committee. “As the Minneapolis minimum wage rises over the three years of our contract, the majority of us see our pay rise, as well. I’m proud of my co-op and this contract.”

Wedge Co-op stresses the importance of democratic control and autonomy as part of their core principles as a cooperatively run business, and the improvements made for workers in the new contract are an example of what can be achieved when workers are empowered by their union membership and have a democratic say in their working conditions.

 

July 15, 2019

UFCW makes history in California with cannabis safety trainings

The UFCW recently hosted the first-ever, industry-specific 30-hour Cal-OSHA trainings for cannabis workers in California to help increase job skills and strengthen workplace safety.

The cannabis industry is the fastest growing job sector in the U.S., and the trainings were held in coordination with the UFCW International’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Office, the UFCW Western States Council, and UFCW Local 770.

“By developing training that is state-specific, industry-specific, and meets the specific needs of workers in the cannabis industry, we know that UFCW members attending these trainings will be safer and the industry will be safer. This training can serve as a model for the rest of the country,” said Robyn Robbins, director of the OSH Office.

Over 30 union cannabis workers and representatives from UFCW Locals 8GS, 324, 770 and 1167 attended the trainings during the weeks of June 10th and June 17th at UFCW Local 770’s Ricardo F. Icaza Workers’ Center in Los Angeles.

“It is very exciting to be a part of this groundbreaking training and to know that the health and safety of our cannabis members is being addressed directly by UFCW trainers by providing an industry-specific curriculum,” said Paul Edwards, who is the director of training and development at UFCW Local 770.

Last year, the UFCW Western States Council helped to pass AB 2799, legislation that requires licensed cannabis businesses in California to have at least one employee and one supervisor complete the 30-hour Cal-OSHA course within one year of licensure.

“California’s cannabis industry creates thousands of jobs where workers must know how to be safe and how to report violations,” said Amber Baur, the executive director of the UFCW Western States Council. “We are proud to be part of these innovative trainings so workers can gain familiarity with their responsibilities and safe practices under Cal-OHSA, saving lives and preventing needless harm.”

Attendees to the Cannabis OSHA Trainings at UFCW Local 770 hold up their training certificates

July 11, 2019

Five things to know about Amazon on Prime Day

You may know Amazon Prime Day as an opportunity to score great deals for customers. This year Amazon has even included a live stream event featuring Taylor Swift to celebrate Prime Day. But here’s some things you need to know about Amazon before you put things in your cart.

1.

A typical order only takes about a minute of human labor for Amazon to select, box and ship.

At Amazon’s warehouse outside Baltimore, almost all of the work is done by robots or automated systems. At many facilities, “pickers” have to walk up and down long aisles to select items, but at the Baltimore facility, robots bring the shelves to the worker, who then picks out the items and puts them in a bin. The bins travel along the network of eight miles of conveyor belts to another worker who boxes the items.

“Jeff Bezos’s vision is clear – he wants to automate every good job out of existence, regardless of whether it’s at Whole Foods, Amazon warehouses, or competing retail and grocery stores,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone in a recent statement.

While some have argued that increased automation won’t impact overall job loss because new jobs will be created for those that are replaced, a 2017 study on automation in the United States found that between 1990 and 2007, one more robot per thousand workers reduced the employment to population ratio by about 0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25-0.5 percent. In other words, for all the fancy talk, in reality those jobs that went away didn’t come back and wages for remaining jobs fell. This had a dire impact on jobs in manufacturing, but with the retail industry as the largest employer in the United States, the future looks grim if elected leaders don’t wake up and start taking things seriously.


2.

Amazon’s plans for HQ2 will be the size of 57 football fields, possibly expanding to 133 football fields by the mid 2030s

The Seattle-based company has filed development plans with Arlington County, Virginia for the inaugural phase of its second headquarters, in Crystal City. Though they haven’t broken ground yet, the plans are already having a serious impact on the local housing market. As of June, the median home price in Arlington County was on track to spike 17.2 percent by the end of 2019, according to a report by the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, making it harder for working class residents to afford basic needs for their families.


3.

If Prime members had their own country, they’d be the 13th largest country in the world

With over 100 million Prime members and growing, Amazon has more subscribers than the entire population of most countries. With about 310 million people who live in the United States, 100 million would be a third of the US population.


4.

Seven workers have died in Amazon facilities since 2013

“Amazon workers suffer injuries – and sometimes lose their lives – in a work environment with a relentless demand to fill orders and close monitoring of employee actions,” states a 2018 report from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, who cited Amazon as one of their “dirty dozen” list of employers failing to correct known safety problems.

According to the report, two workers were crushed by forklifts, one was run over by a truck, one was killed by an SUV driver, one suffered a fatal heart-related event during an overnight shift, one was dragged and crushed by a conveyor belt, and one was killed and crushed by a pallet loader.


5.

Amazon produced a 45-minute anti-union training video for managers

When Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion dollars, it also sent out this 45-minute training video for Team Leaders at the grocery chain:

In it, it warns of employees talking about a “living wage,” and gives tips on how to talk negatively about unions without breaking the law, such as:

“You would never threaten to close your building just because associates joined a union. But you might need to talk about how having a union could hurt innovation which could hurt customer obsession which could ultimately threaten the building’s continued existence.”

The video also warns about workers taking an “unusual interest in policies, benefits, employee lists, or other company information.”

 

July 10, 2019

UFCW wins $31,855 in back pay for Kroger meat cutter in Virginia

When UFCW Local 400 member Pete Dickerson noticed something was off about his pension, his store manager brushed him off for months. Not one to cause a fuss but concerned over his retirement, he finally went to his union representative. What started as a simple clerical error by the company was going to have a tremendous impact on Dickerson’s future, and his experience shows the importance of having a union on your side who is willing to back you up.

This story was original published by UFCW Local 400.

For Local 400 member and Kroger meat cutter Clarence “Pete” Dickerson, justice was a long time coming. But when it arrived, it was sweet—to the tune of $31,855.

Pete’s ordeal started more than eight years ago, when he transferred from his Kroger store in Richmond to Kroger #406 in Appomattox, Virginia. He needed to help care for his brother who had cancer and be closer to his family.

In Richmond, Pete worked as a meat cutter. But in order to transfer to Appomattox, he took a position as a part-time clerk, the only available opening at the time. Pete worked as a clerk in grocery and produce for a few weeks, but once the meat manager found out Pete was a fully trained meat cutter, he started scheduling Pete in the meat shop as a part-time meat cutter from that day forward. Sadly, his brother passed away, but Pete stayed in Appomattox, where he continues to work as a meat cutter today.

Unfortunately—and unbeknownst to him—the move from the grocery department to the meat department was mishandled by Kroger management. Pete was wrongly classified as a meat clerk, not a meat cutter.

Eventually, Pete became aware something was wrong. “My pension seemed awfully low,” he said. “So I started checking into it. They had me listed as a clerk according to paperwork. But I’m a meat cutter. I was hired as a meat cutter from the get-go.”

When Pete raised concerns, the store manager said, “We’ll look into it.” But months passed by with no action. But when his Local 400 representative, Phil Frisina, visited the store and learned of Pete’s issues, he filed a grievance.

“In our first meeting with HR, she told me I had said I came here as a clerk,” Pete recalled. “I told her I never said any such thing. And how would she know what I said? They were trying to blow me off.”

“It was a battle,” Frisina said. “Management claimed he should have known better. Come on—Pete’s 71½ years-old, an easy-going guy who didn’t want to rock the boat. I told Kroger he fulfilled his obligation to you by working as a meat-cutter. Your obligation is to pay him as a meat cutter.”

After more than five contentious months, Kroger finally did the right thing and agreed to a settlement reimbursing Pete for the pay he had rightfully earned as a meat cutter.

“I was thrilled to know that it has been done and handled the right way,” Pete said. “Anyone can make a mistake, but not to admit to the error is a problem.

“It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had my union there to help me,” he added. “Everyone should join our union. That’s why Local 400 is here—to catch errors that would otherwise never be caught.”

“Local 400 repaired Pete’s past and fixed his future,” Frisina said. “I’m about to retire myself and this is the biggest back pay award I’ve ever won. It feels really good to have helped someone—especially a good person like Pete.”

June 17, 2019

Keep it classy with this UFCW-made bourbon and wine cocktail

Looking for a simple but sophisticated cocktail for your next get together? We’re proud to have among the UFCW’s ranks many hard working men and women at quality distilleries and wineries, and this cocktail gives us a chance to highlight both UFCW-made bourbon and wine in one drink.

The Derby Sour  is similar to a Brown Derby, a refreshing grapefruit-based drink straight out of 1940s Hollywood, but mixed with a New York Sour, a play on a whiskey sour that originated in Chicago in the 1870s. While topping a bourbon drink with red wine might seem unusual, it was common among Victorian-era bartenders as a way to add visual interest to a drink and would have been referred to as a “claret snap.”

This is a great drink if you are new to making cocktails as you don’t have to commit to buying any fancy liqueurs, plus the addition of honey syrup not only sounds tasty, but it is actually even easier to make than simple syrup— just mix half hot water with half honey until the honey dissolves, then let it cool.

Don’t be intimidated by having to float the red wine on top of the drink. While the internet is full of highly-skilled bartenders pouring liquids over the backs of spoons into neat layers, you can actually just pour the wine directly into a spoon and slowly spoon it onto the drink if you are nervous about messing up.  A drier, fruitier wine with a bit of spice works best, but you can probably get away with using most reds and it will still turn out great.


The Derby Sour

1 1/2 ounces UFCW-made Basil Hayden’s® Rye Whiskey
3/4 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce honey syrup (1/2 honey, 1/2 hot water)
1/2 ounce UFCW-made red wine (we used Hess Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon made by UFCW members in the Napa Valley)
2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Combine all the ingredients except for the wine into a cocktail shaker with some ice. Shake and then pour into a glass. Slowly float the wine on top using a spoon.

Lifehack: if you don’t own a cocktail shaker, try using a to-go coffee thermos with a lid. No one has to know.