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Local 400 Member Writes Op-Ed About Kroger’s New Anti-Union Direction

10153899_753063741381197_2612718722607377983_nLaverne Wrenn, a Local 400 member who works at a Kroger in Portsmouth, Virginia, wrote an op-ed this weekend that was published in the Virginian-Pilot.

In her op-ed, Laverne discusses how she and her co-workers have been preparing for the upcoming closure of her store. She says it will be hard to say goodbye to the customers whom she has known and served for 17 years, but what’s worse is that she and her coworkers will lose their jobs unless they are able to make a 50-mile, round-trip commute to the nearest unionized Kroger store in Yorktown, Virginia.

Putting these dedicated Kroger employees in this situation is irresponsible and unfair. Laverne says that she and her coworkers are active members of their Portsmouth community, and understandably many do not want to leave their communities, or they simply can’t.

Lavern’s coworker Nick, who has special needs, has been a fixture in their store where he scans and bags groceries, thanks to his “open smile and dedication” to the neighbors who shop in their store. On his days off, Nick volunteers with the Portsmouth Fire Department. Nick’s parents, who live nearby the Kroger, have been able to drive him to work for the last 16 years.

By closing their unionized workplace, Kroger is hurting workers like Laverne, Nick, and another employee who can’t drive due to medical reasons. Driving 50 miles twice a day is out of the question for many commuters, and impossible for those who can’t drive themselves. So although Kroger has a legal obligation to transfer their employees to other stores, they are essentially forcing many of these hard workers to quit.

Laverne writes:

“All of us who work in the High Street store are members of the Portsmouth community. We live here and send our children to the neighborhood schools. Many of my co-workers walk or take the bus to work; they do not own a car. We have built our lives around this store and this community. But now Kroger is giving us just one month’s notice to transfer to a store 25 miles away or lose our jobs.

Kroger signed a contract with us to protect our jobs if the company ever chose to close our store. This false choice – commute or quit – was never a part of our contract.”

There are two other Kroger stores in the Portsmouth area, however Kroger opened them under their Marketplace brand, as non-union. These non-union stores do not offer the types of jobs that Laverne and her coworkers have under their union-contract. “For a job with union wages, pension benefits and a voice on the job, the stores in Yorktown and Virginia Beach are the only options,” wrote Laverne.

Laverne’s op-ed conveys a shift in what Kroger stands for. What Laverne used to believe was a company that stood for good jobs, is not a company that is “deliberately expanding its non-union stores by acquiring Harris Teeter, building non-union Kroger Marketplaces and then pushing loyal union workers” out of town.

It is the workers who are supposed to have the right to choose whether or not they have union representation–not the company. Kroger needs to respect choice its Portsmouth workers made when they chose to be union members. Laverne urges all employees working at stores under the Kroger banner to fight for representation, to stop things like this from happening: “It is time for all Kroger Marketplace workers to make that choice. Together, we can keep good jobs and good workers in Portsmouth and strengthen our local economy.”

Women’s History Month Member Profile: Local 5 Safeway Workers Joanne and Denise

Local 5 Member Joanne Murtha

Local 5 Member Joanne Murtha

We asked UFCW members across the country to share stories about women in their union as part of our ongoing celebration of Women’s History Month.

Denise Ward, a passionate Local 5 steward working at Safeway in Soquel, California, was eager to tell us about her coworker Joanne Murtha, who has worked at her store for close to 25 years.

“Joanne is the go-to person in the store,” says Denise. “She’s not an official manager because she’s chosen to remain a UFCW member, but she does all managerial duties and more. She interviews and orients the new hires. She does payroll . She works at the cash register, she helps customers find things in the store. She wears many hats and is great with all of them.”

Not only does she do all of this while still making time for her family at home, says Denise, but she does it all with a strong sense of compassion for all the people she works with. “She’s so sweet, and she makes everyone at the store feel comfortable and capable in their jobs.”

“If you’re having trouble at the register, and it’s broken or something, Joanne can come help and take over. She’s the hub of the wheel. If she doesn’t know how to help you, she’ll find someone who will. Everyone loves her–everyone’s a fan of Joanne,” Denise exclaims.

But Joanne’s compassion extends beyond the workplace.

Denise adds that when one of their elderly coworkers became sick and was ailing, Joanne and another coworker took care of him–buying his groceries, and becoming his caregivers.

Women like Joanne and Denise know that belonging to a union gives them greater opportunity and job protections than their non-union counterparts, creates a level playing field for female workers, and enables them to have a united voice on the job.

According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), women are a large and growing portion of the union workforce, currently comprising 45% of union members. Women are on track to become a majority of the union workforce by 2023.

On average, union membership increases a woman’s wages by 12.9%, or $2.50 an hour. Also, studies have shown that being in a union raises a woman’s pay as much as a full year of college does. Unionized women of color earn almost 35% percent more than non-union women of color.

CEPR also found that “the union impact on the probability that a female worker has health insurance or a retirement plan through her employer was even larger than the impact on wages. At every education level, unionized women are more likely to have employee benefits than their non-union counterparts with similar characteristics. In fact, for a women worker with a high school degree, being in or represented by a union raises her likelihood of having health insurance or a retirement plan by more than earning a four-year college degree would.”

Additionally, employer-provided retirements are one of the largest advantages that union-women have, when compared to non-union women, CEPR shows.

Denise herself has worked at Safeway for 21 years, and will retire at the end of the month.

“I’m retiring a little early at age 61,” she says. “My union benefits enabled me to do that. And I could have been unfairly fired several times over the years, but because my workplace is union, I am protected against that–our union establishes rules that the employer must follow. I’m about to retire now but I will always be a union member, for the rest of my life. I will always be pro-union.”

Do you know a strong woman in your life and your union that’d you’d like to share with us? Let us know at submissions@ufcw.org

 

Union Workers Call for Boycott of El Super

El-Super-Rally-3-300x200Union members, clergy and more than 100 community groups gathered for an Ash Wednesday rally in support of UFCW members who are fighting for a fair contract at El Super grocery stores in southern California. Six hundred UFCW members have been working without a contract since September, 2013. In response to the company’s steadfast refusal to provide their employees with a fair contract, union El Super workers have called for a consumer boycott of the grocery chain.

El Super is a 49-store grocery chain in the American Southwest, owned by Grupo Comercial Chedraui, Mexico’s third largest retailer. Seven stores in southern California currently are union, represented by UFCW Locals 324, 770, 1428 and 1167. The employees are working together to achieve adequate paid sick leave, seniority rights, guaranteed 40-hour work weeks for full-time employees and a fair wage in a new contract.

Unfortunately, rather than working cooperatively to meet their employees’ needs, El Super focused its efforts on persuading union members to vote out their union. The company held captive audience meetings conducted by El Super CEO Carlos A. Smith, pushing a decertification vote. The workers were not fooled. On December 12, 2014 they voted – by a more than 3-1 majority – in favor of their union.

After the recertification vote, the workers promptly asked the company to return to the bargaining table. El Super ignored, and then rejected that request. El Super’s actions, and its steadfast refusal to address the workers’ priorities, led to the call for a consumer boycott of all El Super markets on December 20, 2014.

The boycott will continue until El Super workers achieve their core goal of winning respect and a fair contract.

To show your support for a fair contract for El Super workers, please visit www.boycottelsuper.org.