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Member Spotlight: Local 1500’s ‘Battling’ Barbara Balos

Originally posted on Labor Press

16e5cef5ebc8d47ba5afdd323a28d900_w225_h169_scIn her 25 years with UFCW Local 1500, Barbara Balos, 48, has helped run several major chain supermarkets throughout the city. For the last several years, the Long Island mom has been the non-foods manager at a bustling Bronx Pathmark, overseeing ordering, deliveries and more. Balos has a knack for getting things done – and that steady determination has not only helped her employers succeed, it’s also helped win better conditions for co-workers; raise a ton of money for numerous charitable organizations, and even change the way New York State protects its children.

“I have been a shop steward for Local 1500 for about 8 years, and have many wonderful opportunities with the union,” Balos says.

Many times, Balos is called upon to help correct unsafe working conditions like an overflowed grease pit or wonky loading dock – the kinds of things that could land an unlucky employee in the hospital.

Lately, however, Balos’ problem-solving skills have been tested trying to help co-workers reclaim lost hours guaranteed under their union contract, and securing new apartments for hard-pressed employees who’ve been reduced to part-time status as an unintended consequence of the Affordable Healthcare Act, and no longer able to make the rent.

One co-worker was forced to flee an abusive home environment and actually ended up on the street, while another had his Brooklyn apartment sold beneath his feet.

“Believe it or not, it happens a lot,” Balos says. “Unfortunately, a lot of the people I work with are part-timers. They’re getting 16-hours a week, and it’s tough to make ends meet. With the Obama care law, we’ve had problems with part-timers not getting enough hours, because they can’t go over that 30-hour threshold, so a lot of times, management will cut back on hours. But we help out our own.”

Over the course her union career, Balos has repeatedly met with members of the New York City Council, to make sure they understand just how important labor unions continue to be for workers like her.

“People are afraid to talk to management and stand up for their rights, or even to ask a question,”  says Balos. “Many times, management will try to get away with things they shouldn’t.”

Just this past Christmas, Balos says the nicest present she received was a phone call from an older co-worker who faced the very real possibility of losing his job after arbitrarily being reassigned to a position he was not well-suited.

“I became a shop steward because I truly enjoy helping people and consider the other members as my family,” Balos says. “We rally around each other.”

Balos initially became politically active about 11 years ago, following a devastating incident which compelled her to try and convince the New York State Legislature to toughen the laws concerning convicted sex offenders.

“At the time, anyone who was a level 2 or 3 sex offender got off their probation period, and were off the sex offense registry,” Balos says. “There was talk from some senators about passing a bill to keep those offenders on the registry for life. So, I wrote to my local senator, told my story, and got a few thousand petitions signed to change the law.”

Not long after that, the Local 1500 shop steward was shocked to learn that her moving appeal would be heard on the floor of the New York State Senate.

“It was a great honor to help out,” Balos said. “We won that battle and got the laws changed. It was wonderful to know that I was a part of that.”

Balos continues to be passionate about activism, especially union activism.

“I think people are trying to cut corners and cut costs,” Balos says. “But our union can be tough. And management, no matter where they are, doesn’t want that.”

For the last few years, Balos’ daughter has been working at a non-union shop while attending college. For the Balos household, the enduring importance of organized labor is not some abstract ideological question to batted around endlessly by elites. Its efficacy is demonstrated daily in real life.

“When [my daughter] first started there, literally ever day, she should would come home saying, ‘I’m going to get fired. My boss is going to fire me because I asked for this day off. He just fired another person for no reason,’” Balos says. “There have been a lot of things that she goes through where I tell her – if you were union, that would not happen.”

UFCW Local 400 Shoppers Workers Ratify New Agreement

Local-400-Shoppers1-300x168Last week, UFCW Local 400 members working at Shoppers Food & Pharmacy overwhelmingly ratified a new, three-year collective bargaining agreement that increases their wages and maintains their health and retirement security.

The contract culminates a months-long, difficult round of bargaining that required multiple extensions of the old agreement to resolve complex issues, many of which revolved around increased costs imposed by the Affordable Care Act. The workers’ success was due to a sustained campaign that mobilized support from Shoppers customers and the community, with members of the bargaining advisory committee visiting every store in the area.

“Because our Shoppers members stayed strong throughout this challenging process, they won a collective bargaining agreement that improves their standard of living and keeps their comprehensive health and pension benefits,” said Local 400 President Mark P. Federici. “This is a solid contract that compares well to others in the industry, and it’s testimony to the power of member activism. It also gives our members one more thing to be thankful for two days from now.”

“It took a lot of hard work, but we stuck together in solidarity, and it all paid off,” said Jose Mercado who works at Shoppers #2615. “I think it’s a fair and good contract.”

“I feel good about the contract,” said Kevin Freeman of Shoppers #2618. “We touched base on all the issues people had in the stores and it was a good outcome. I was really glad to be on the bargaining team—it was a great group. Now we just have to keep moving forward.”

“We earned this contract through our actions in the stores,” said Chartel Scott, who works at Shoppers #2653. “I’m proud of the strength we showed through this long process.”

“Together with our union leadership we stuck together, didn’t give up, and got the best deal possible,” said Keith DeWitt, who works at Shoppers #2646. “Our hard work has paid off.”

Key provisions of the contract include:

  • Guaranteed wage increases of up to 90 cents/hour over three years, with all of the agreement’s financial benefits coming in the form of permanent raises rather than one-time bonuses.
  • Increased employer contributions to fully fund pension benefits.
  • Health care maintenance of benefits, which ensures that Shoppers will contribute whatever is necessary to the health care fund to pay all benefits.
  • Spouses will continue to be covered under the health benefit plan.
  • Overtime will continue to be paid for work exceeding eight hours in any day.
  • Sunday will continue to be treated as separate from the basic work week.

The agreement, which affects 2,500 workers in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, takes effect retroactively as of July 13, 2014, and it expires on July 8, 2017.

Bloomingfoods Workers Win Voice on the Job with Local 700

photo-51-300x225In an accelerated, fair process marked by company neutrality and community involvement, around 250 workers across five Bloomingfoods Coop grocery stores and a commissary that supplies ready-made food have chosen a real voice at work with UFCW Local 700.

Bloomingfoods workers had reached out and asked UFCW members for help in getting their company to remain neutral and let them have a free and fair choice to join a union. With your help, the company committed to a fair process and the workers overwhelmingly voted to join with their fellow grocery workers in Local 700.

“Bloomingfoods is part of what I love most about Bloomington,” said Casie Jetter, a Bloomingfoods commissary worker. “I want the co-op to remain strong and successful so that my daughter can some day shop at the same co-op that has remained a staple in our community. Bringing a union to Bloomingfoods will put our co-op one more step ahead of competition in an increasingly competitive market.”

In addition to the hard work of UFCW activists and members across the country, members of UFCW 700 and 23 worked hard to support the efforts of the organizing workers on the ground.

“This marks the end of our unionizing campaign,” member owner and employee Kaisa Goodman said. “But this is just the beginning of our contract campaign…one thing has ended, but something bigger is about to begin.”