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UFCW Kroger Workers Rally to Keep Jobs

Kroger workers, customers and community allies gathered in front of the Frederick Boulevard Kroger last week to protest the company’s unfair treatment of union store workers. The company closed the Portsmouth Kroger Food & Drug store on Saturday and is transferring most the store’s union workforce to a store in Yorktown, 25 miles away.

Store workers delivered a petition to Kroger requesting that workers be allowed to transfer to a local Kroger Marketplace store instead. Hundreds of customers have pledged not to shop at either of the newly opened Kroger Marketplace stores until the Kroger grocery store workers are allowed to transfer to a local store while retaining their union benefits and wages. More than 60 workers have requested this transfer.

“It’s been hard saying goodbye to coworkers that just can’t make the 50 mile round-trip to the new store. We’ve built our lives around this store and the Portsmouth community,” said Laverne Wren, who has worked for Kroger for 16 years. “Kroger signed a contract with us to protect our jobs if the company ever chose to close our store. But this false choice – commute or quit – was never part of our contract.”

Many workers will lose their jobs if they cannot find transportation to Yorktown. Nick Roe, who has special needs, has worked for Kroger for 17 years. He cannot drive, and relies on his parents to drive him to and from work each day. If Nick is not allowed to transfer to the local Kroger Marketplace, his ability to keep a job he loves will rely on his parents’ ability to drive 100 miles each day. Other workers are weighing the toll that this commute will take on their families. Michael Cowan works the overnight shift in order to share childcare duties with his wife. The long commute means that the family will have to start sending their young daughter to daycare during Michael’s commute.

“Kroger is deliberately expanding its non-union stores with the acquisition of Harris Teeter, and with this new tactic of building non-union Kroger Marketplaces, and then pushing loyal union workers out of town,” said Mark Federici, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 400. “If we want to keep good jobs in Portsmouth, then it is time for all workers – grocery and Marketplace – to have a union voice at Kroger.”

The union contract negotiated between Kroger and UFCW Local 400 stipulates that in the event that Kroger closes a store, the company will transfer workers to another union store. Kroger Marketplace stores are non-union and do not offer the same pay or benefits guaranteed by the union contract.

“The High Street Kroger workers are members of the Portsmouth community. They are our friends and neighbors,” said James Boyd, President of the Portsmouth branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “We are out here today because we believe that good jobs are essential to the strength of this community. We want Kroger to be a partner in strengthening our community by keeping good jobs and loyal employees in Portsmouth.”

View footage of the protest by WAVY Channel 10 News.

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Tell Walmart: Help Striking Farm Workers

This post was written by our friends at UFW.

On March 17th, thousands of farm workers toiling in the San Quintín Valley—an export oriented agricultural region in Baja California Norte—walked off their jobs in protest of low wages, poor working conditions, and alleged violations of Mexican labor law. Nearly three weeks later, key demands made by leaders of the work stoppage have been largely unmet. At issue to date is an across the board wage floor of 200 pesos per day (about $13.00 USD, brought down from an initial demand of 300 pesos per day, or about $20.00 USD) and an overhaul of existing union contracts leaders claim serve employers’ interest more than those of workers.

Hundreds of farms in the valley export millions of tons of fresh produce each year to major US retailers.[1] While US consumers enjoy the berries, cucumbers, peas, and tomatoes produced in the region, farm workers who live and labor there say that with average wages currently running at about $7.00 to $8.00 USD per day, they are unable to meet their basic needs.

AdeliaAdelia Hernandez Zamora, who says she has worked at many different agricultural companies in her 14 years living in the San Quintín valley, shared the following:

“Supposedly the product we produce here for the other side is sold in dollars. We are paid in Mexican pesos. With the money we make, we are unable to meet [our needs]. We have kids in school. We pay rent… A kilo of meat costs 120 pesos. A carton of eggs is at 80 pesos. A kilo of tortillas is at 14 pesos. Water is at 14 pesos. We do not have plumbing in our homes and pay for water.”

ElizElizabeth Valenzuela Chavez is a single mother who works for Rancho Magaña. She says, “Food prices have gone up. Gas has gone up. What about our wages?”

Representatives for the region’s growers have claimed that the 200 peso daily rate the strike leaders are demanding would cripple the local economy.[2] Workers claim that that rate is the minimum required to meet basic needs in the wake of peso devaluation impacting local prices. This is a sign of dysfunction. But both identifying where the dysfunction is occurring and how to correct it is a responsibility that goes beyond the negotiation that took place between workers and their employers in San Quintín.

Reports of low wages and poor conditions in San Quintín follow a series of documented labor abuses in other export ag producing regions in Mexico. In response to those earlier reports, the largest buyer of Mexican produce, Walmart—an industry giant —said to the LA Times on February 12 that it would be stepping up its efforts in ensuring social responsibility in its supply chain. [3] This latest unrest presents an opportunity for consumers to let the retail giant know we are expecting them to come good on this commitment with the utmost urgency. Walmart can set a new standard for other players in the fresh produce business.

Join us and more than 25,000 other supporters in calling on Walmart and other leaders in the grocery retail industry hold powerful agribusiness companies such as Driscoll accountable by signing the petition at http://action.ufw.org/baja.

[1] http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-baja-farmworkers-20150320-story.html#page=1

[2] http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-baja-farmworkers-20150330-story.html

[3] http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-me-farm-labor-20150213-story.html#page=1

UFCW Local 655 Hosts Diversity Training for Local Leaders

UFCW Local 655 members and staff in Saint Louis, Mo., attended the first Equity and Inclusion Diversity Leadership Training put together by the UFCW Civil Rights and Community Action Department. Over the course of two and a half days, about a dozen UFCW Local 655 leaders from a variety of backgrounds participated in the first session of the three-part diversity training series. The training was developed to help increase staff and members’ knowledge and awareness of diversity issues and elevate the importance of inclusiveness in local unions. The program focuses on local union leaders developing cultural competence with a new set of attitudes, skills, and behaviors in order to have themselves and their organizations work effectively in cross-cultural situations and workplace diversity. Ultimately, the trainings are designed to empower participants to take action and help steer their local union to develop and promote organizational equity and focus on fairness in order to create change in a local union’s culture.

“Stepping outside of my comfort zone may be uncomfortable, but it can be a stepping stone for my future responsibilities as a leader in my local union. Thanks to the diversity training, I am ready to go back to work and start taking action to build relationships with other members to empower us to stand united for justice and equality in our union and in our communities,” said UFCW Local 655 member Amy Nichols.

UFCW Local 655 hosted their diversity training for local union leaders in response to the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and the impact that the Ferguson events have had on the labor movement in the state. The first session in the diversity training is titled “Why Diversity Matters.” During this session, participants were involved in an open dialogue about the origin of racism, and the history of racial inequality and its roots in economic injustice. They examined different identities and how they relate to people in the workplace and society. Participants discussed the ways people experience or observe different forms of discrimination at work and in the community. They also learned about what being an ally and having solidarity means in a labor context.

“We need to have the difficult conversations with our coworkers, members, and the community about why this fight for equality is so important. We need to take the conversations from the trainings out to our workplaces and communities if we want to start taking real action to create change and an environment of inclusiveness,” said UFCW Local 655 staffer Theresa Hester.

During the first session, participants were later joined by young activists from Missouri, who are fighting for social and economic justice in Ferguson and throughout the state. Participants will follow up the training with recruiting members and coworkers for the April 15 Workers’ Day of Action activities.

“In today’s America where we are more diverse as a country than ever, it is incumbent on current labor to develop future leaders that act and look like our society. If our current labor leaders do not provide the needed training to a young diverse workforce our labor leaders tomorrow will not reflect the make-up of our society. On a broader spectrum, I would hope all leaders not just labor leaders would be training for a more diverse leadership team in the future. I believe the best possibility to end the wealth disparity in America is to have diverse leaders in the future and the only way to achieve this is to provide leadership training today to a diverse group of workers,” said UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook.

“The training for new UFCW leaders is critical at this juncture of the union movement. Union leaders will need to have new skills to recruit and engage members in a changing workforce demographic. I’m encouraged to see union leaders such as UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook, taking the initiative to embrace this challenge of diversity and racial equity and getting leaders in the local involved. Unions must take on the dual fight against the various “isms” both inside and outside the union. Unions are a critical part of the social justice movement that’s building power for all workers,” said Jamala Rogers, one of the diversity program trainers, a retired teacher and member of AFT.

UFCW Local 655 will complete the other two parts of the diversity program in the coming months. The second session will be “Race and Politics,” which will take place in July, and the third session “New Generation Diversity: I Am Today’s Leader,” will take place in November.

To see some great discussion and other highlights from this training session, click here.

To learn more about the diversity trainings and hosting a training at your local, contact the UFCW Civil Rights and Community Action Department at civilrights@ufcw.org.

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