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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 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.”

May 6, 2019

UFCW Kentucky florist to retire after over 30 years of derby rose garlands

UFCW Local 227 member Carol Belzer has worked for decades as a talented florist at Kroger, where every year she helps craft the iconic Kentucky Derby rose garland.

Carol has had a hand in every derby garland since 1987. Recently, she appeared on tv talking about her upcoming retirement and how it feels to be trusted with making the famous “Garland of Roses.”

“Seeing that blanket of roses placed across that winning thoroughbred, that is such a warm, touching feeling,” she said in an interview with WDRB.

The derby’s rose garland has a history that dates back to 1896, when winner Ben Brush received an arrangement of white and pink roses. Red roses became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby in 1904, and UFCW members at Kroger have been crafting the garland since 1987.

May 3, 2019

Third Shift Day

Whether it’s working through the night to prepare fresh food for the morning, restocking store shelves, or taking care of our loved ones in the hospital, the hard-working men and women of the UFCW who work the third shift provide an incredible value that too often goes unnoticed or taken for granted.

That’s why every second Wednesday in May, we celebrate Third Shift Day. Last year, UFCW Local union staff went out to surprise some of our third shift members with donuts, coffee, or other tokens of appreciation.

UFCW Local 770 members hold up their "Night Shift Strong" mugs from Third Shift Day

UFCW Local 770 members hold up their “Night Shift Strong” mugs from Third Shift Day

So what is it that drives someone to go to work while the rest of us are asleep? A survey of part-time night shift workers showed that:

  • 42% said it ‘allows time for school’
  • 22.5% liked the ‘nature of the job’
  • 9% said ‘better arrangements for family or childcare’
  • An additional 11.5% of night-workers surveyed say that it’s just their preference

One of those hard-working night owls focused on going to school is Kathy of UFCW Local 1428 in southern California, who worked nights so she could get her masters degree in Anthropology. Way to go, Kathy! Her coworker Sharon also reminds us that contrary to what some people might think, many dedicated employees build their careers working nights – she’s spent the past 35 years as a third shifter! The stability of third shift work allowed her to balance work and family responsibilities.

Are you a Third Shifter? Let us know why you do it by emailing us at submissions@ufcw.org or send us a message on Facebook. 

May 2, 2019

Stop & Shop workers ratify strong new contract

UFCW members at Stop & Shop have overwhelmingly ratified a strong new contract for the 31,000 workers across New England who walked off their jobs on April 11 to protest the company’s proposed cuts to health care, take-home pay, and other benefits.

The five UFCW Local Unions (328, 371, 1445, 1459, and 919) who worked collaboratively together throughout negotiations with the company, responded to the deal in a joint statement, saying “We are incredibly grateful to our customers and everyone who proudly stood together with us every day for a contract that invests in the communities we serve, and makes Stop & Shop a better place to work and a better place to shop.”

The new agreement preserves health care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members.

Negotiations with Stop & Shop received national attention as being one of the most important work stoppages in the grocery industry in recent memory and a blow against the erosion of good jobs by needless corporate greed.

“It’s exciting to be back to normal, but it’s also exciting to know how much our community cares about good jobs,” said Nicole, a UFCW member who works at Stop & Shop. “We’re all a lot stronger now.”

UFCW members react to the news

Paul, Stop & Shop

“I feel so proud. Our store and community came together to make things better. I couldn’t think of a better way for us all to come back to work.” – Paul

“It just feels so good to be back. Feels like the family is together again. It was a humbling experience and I’m happy things turned out so well.” – Marc

“We found out our family is a lot bigger than just our store. Our customers care about us just as much as we care about them. That’s pretty special.” – John, Owen, Michael, Kristen, and Dario

April 14, 2019

Stop & Shop workers overwhelmed by outpouring of community support

Since Stop & Shop workers walked off the job Thursday, there has been an outpouring of customer support as New England communities rally together with the goal of making Stop & Shop a better place to work and shop.

UFCW Locals 328, 919, 1459, 1445, and 371, representing all 31,000 Stop & Shop workers in New England, have been in negotiations with the company over a new contract for nearly three months since January 14th, with the current contract having expired on February 23rd.

Despite Stop & Shop’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, taking in more than $2 billion in 2018 and authorizing over $4 billion in stock buybacks from 2017 to 2019, the company is proposing unreasonable cuts to workers’ take-home pay, health care, and retirement benefits.

In addition, the company unlawfully refuses to provide financial information to verify its claim that their proposed cuts are necessary.

UFCW’s five New England locals are unified at the negotiation table and are asking for Stop & Shop to properly value the employees whose hard work and dedication have made their company so successful.

Support from Customers

The flood of support, both in person as customers stop by picket signs to drop off bottles of water, offer hugs or messages of strength and encouragement, or online on social media, shows New England is a place that values hard-working union families and believes workers have earned the right to build a better life and community.:

Support from across our union family

Union members, both UFCW and from other unions, have also been sending along their strength, both from local former Stop & Shop workers, but also from union members as far away as Alberta, Canada:



Thank you to everyone who has shown their support so far. It means a great deal that in these divisive times, we can still come together as a community and have one another’s backs when it matters. The hardworking men and women of Stop & Shop pride themselves on their service to the community, and are humbled by the outpouring of support and encouragement received so far.

If you would like to voice your support for Stop & Shop workers, sign the petition.

April 14, 2019

Why New England Stop & Shop workers walked off the job Thursday

31,000 Stop & Shop workers from over 240 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island walked off the job Thursday April 11. This massive worker protest comes in response to months of negotiations with Stop & Shop in which the company has refused to back down from proposals attempting to cut workers’ health care, take home pay, and retirement benefits.

Stop & Shop is claiming they are offering a wage increase, but $.30 in hourly wages for a part-time worker would not offset the cuts they have included in their proposal such as:

  • Elimination of Sunday and holiday pay for part-timers
  • Increase in weekly premium costs for employee only coverage by up to 90% over three years
  • Doubling of health care out-of-pocket limits for many employees, going from $1,000 for an individual to $2,000, and from $2,500 to $5,000 for a family

Stop & Shop is the number one grocery chain in New England. It is a subsidiary of multinational company Ahold-Delhaize, which reported more than $2 billion in profit last year. This is not a company in financial trouble.

At the same time the company was demanding workers’ pay more for health care and lose Sunday and holiday pay, Ahold authorized $880 million in dividend payments to shareholders from 2017 to 2019. Ahold also recently received $217 million in corporate tax cuts. Amongst other actions, the company unlawfully refuses to provide financial information to verify its claim that their proposed cuts are necessary.

Instead of investing in the workers who made the company successful and who take care of their customers, Stop & Shop is trying to stiff them.

The decision to walk off the job is a tough one. If one person were to try to fight back on cuts like these by themselves, they wouldn’t stand a chance. But the 31,000 workers who made this choice are doing it together as one union family. None of them have to fight for their health care and benefits alone. Together they can fight these cuts and protest the company’s unlawful actions in connection with negotiations—and win. .

UFCW’s five New England locals are unified at the negotiation table and are asking for Stop & Shop to properly value the employees whose hard work and dedication have made their company so successful.

UFCW members who work at Stop & Shop could use your support. If you live in New England, please don’t cross the line. Please stop at other union stores.

Please sign our petition and stand with UFCW Stop & Shop workers for a contract that allows them to deliver excellent customer service while still being able to provide for their families. It’s time for Stop & Shop to reach a fair contract agreement that reflects the true value of its workers.

Sign and share the petition today to support Stop & Shop workers

Or Text “support” to 698329 to sign the petition by mobile.

March 18, 2019

Should we be worried about dynamic pricing in retail?

Ever go to tell a family member or a friend about a great deal you found online, but when they go to buy it too, it’s no longer there? Or maybe it costs way more than you paid for the same thing?

While you got a great deal, what you’re experiencing is the phenomenon known as “dynamic pricing” or raising and lowering prices many times a day, a week or a month to drive sales but still ensure a consistent profit. This is often paired with what is called “personalized pricing” or “cohort pricing” where each shopper gets their own price for a product – what’s my price isn’t yours and vice versa. These are marketed to consumers as a benefit – deeper discounts just for you — but in the end, may actually end up benefiting the retailer at your expense.

One paper from MIT’s Sloan School says that “Implementing DP can improve revenues and profits by between 8% and 25%.”

So if everyone is saving, how are retailers making money? In the case of things like groceries, people tend to buy the same items over and over again. Since you’re not the only shopper, companies like Amazon sometimes charge one shopper triple what another one pays for the same item.

Companies are able to get away with doing this because as customers, we don’t actually have a single price we’re willing to pay, we have what’s called a “latitude of price acceptance.” That’s a band of prices—from a steal to a little pricey—that we’re willing pay for an item. According to McKinsey & Co., that price variance can be as much as 17% , which is a lot of extra money to be made if you move to the top of the band.

The Impact of Artificial Intelligence

While price fluctuations aren’t new and dynamic pricing has been around since the 1980s, having those changes determined by Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is uncharted territory. As retailers battle it out to find that exact pricing sweet spot that maximizes both sales and profits, evolving technology raises concerns about what the effects are on both consumers and smaller businesses when large companies like Amazon use AI and algorithms to enhance profitability with little oversight.

Data is King

AI-driven personalized pricing relies on tracking and retaining information on customer behavior. That means whoever has the most information on you has a competitive advantage over their rivals. Beyond the security and privacy concerns of big data, this also means that the playing field is tipped even further in the favor of large companies like Amazon, who reached over 100 million Prime members in the US in January.

According to Amazon’s Privacy Notice page, the retail giant collects and analyzes everything from purchase histories and products viewed or searched for to reviews, wish lists and length of visits to certain pages. This huge pool of data on its customers’ shopping habits can help Amazon better understand what shoppers are looking for, what they buy and what prices they are willing to pay. 

Increasingly, company leaders are recognizing that a dynamic pricing strategy supported by big data and artificial intelligence (AI) can help them gain a competitive pricing advantage over rivals. 

– Forbes

With deep insights into the personal preferences and online behavior of about a third of the US population, not even including the shoppers who are not Prime members, Amazon isn’t just a retailer, but a data company.

Pricing based on who you are

While the law prohibits assigning prices based on protected characteristics—like race or gender—personalized pricing is by its nature nontransparent, meaning you can’t see everyone’s prices. That means you may not know that women, for example, are charged more for the same item, because the only price you see is the artificially high one. If we know companies have information on your race or gender, and we also know the AI-driven dynamic pricing responds to your unique set of data and characteristics, how would anyone know if the law was being violated?

What comes next?

We don’t know—and we’re not sure anyone else does either. But we also believe that honesty and transparency are essential. Lawmakers should be wary of technology evolving faster than our laws, or the ability to enforce them, can keep up with, especially if that technology is skewed to benefit powerful retail industry players like Amazon.

March 1, 2019

UFCW president responds to Amazon’s newly announced grocery chain: “Our leaders need to stop fawning over Jeff Bezos”

A report today from the Wall Street Journal claims Amazon plans to open a new grocery US grocery chain that would be separate from Whole Foods, which was purchased by Amazon in 2017 for roughly $13.5 billion. According to the WSJ article:

Amazon.com is planning to open dozens of grocery stores in several major U.S. cities, according to people familiar with the matter, as the retail giant looks to broaden its reach in the food business. First grocery store in Los Angeles as early as the end of 2019. Amazon has already signed leases for at least 2 other grocery locations with openings planned for early next year, this person said.

The new stores would be distinct from the company’s upscale Whole Foods Market brand, though it is unclear whether the new grocery chain would carry the Amazon name.

Amazon is also exploring an acquisition strategy to widen the new supermarket brand by purchasing regional grocery chains with about a dozen stores under operation, one person said.

Amazon is now in talks to open grocery stores in shopping centers in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, the people familiar with the matter said.

While Amazon has already signed leases, that doesn’t guarantee it will open the grocery stores. Retailers sign contracts and then pull out or delay store openings if certain conditions aren’t met.

The new stores aren’t intended to compete directly with Whole Foods and will offer products at a lower price point, these people said. The new chain would offer a different variety of products than what is on the shelves at the more upscale Whole Foods stores.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone responded with the following statement warning of the dire impacts Amazon’s move to take over the grocery industry could have for everyday Americans:

“Make no mistake, Amazon’s new and ruthless supermarket strategy is its latest salvo bent on destroying good American jobs to enrich one billionaire – Jeff Bezos.

Amazon isn’t about providing better food or customer service, and it certainly is not about fair competition. Launching this grocery chain is an aggressive expansion of Amazon’s market power as it seeks to fundamentally change our country’s food retail and service economy while eliminating as many retail workers as possible.

It is time that Republicans and Democrats realize that Amazon’s predatory business model is wrong for this nation and will needlessly destroy millions of jobs in every state in this country. Our leaders need to stop fawning over Jeff Bezos’ wealth and wake up to the serious threat Amazon’s business model poses to consumers, the economy, and our society.”

The UFCW has been calling for more scrutiny to be given to Amazon’s impact on the grocery industry since their announcement of the Amazon Go stores in 2016.