Economic Justice


Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Local 770 Member Lydia Flores Fighting for Justice at El Super

Originally posted by the AFL-CIO

Worker Stories: Lydia Flores

On Oct. 7, the White House is holding a summit with leaders in the various movements to improve the lives of working people across the country, with a focus on how to make sure that economic growth is broad-based and that workers share in the benefits they help create with their labor. Until the summit begins, we’ll be highlighting the stories of workers and their struggles to make sure their voices are heard on the job.

Today, we take a look at Lydia Flores.

Flores is a 37-year-old single mother of three who works as a cashier at union El Super market in Arleta, Calif. She and her co-workers have been fighting for a new contract for more than two years in the face of a campaign by the company to undermine the workers’ desires for fair working conditions and a voice on the job.

 Currently, she makes $12.88 per hour after 11 years at the company. The low wages and the lack of sufficient hours keep Flores in a constant struggle to pay her bills:

I pay the mortgage and my car and my utilities—and the rest of the bills have to wait. Sometimes I work 32, 36 hours. The 40 hours are not guaranteed.

When Flores speaks up about anything at work, she says that she is met with hostility and disdain. Other workers at El Super have made similar complaints.

Flores says the workers want more:

We want more respect and enough hours to support our families. If we had a contract, they would respect the 40 hours, and we would not have to be fearful about raising concerns about the company’s failure to follow the rules

Flores knows that coming together with her co-workers can make positive change. She is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770, a shop steward and a member of the union’s bargaining committee.

El Super employs low‐wage and predominantly Latino workers. The workers at the union stores were covered under a contract with El Super that expired on Sept. 27, 2013. For more than a year, the unions and the worker bargaining team sought to bargain to improve their working conditions. In September 2013, El Super imposed what it called its “last, best and final” offer, which did not address the workers’ concerns and provided for less paid sick leave than is currently mandated by California state law. On Dec. 12, 2014, El Super workers voted resoundingly to recertify the union and demanded the company return to the bargaining table, a request which El Super rejected. El Super employees and the UFCW launched a boycott in December 2014 to protest the company’s actions. The union’s boycott lines have turned away more than 100,000 prospective El Super shoppers. In the face of the boycott and after the NLRB issued complaint and sought a 10(j) injunction in federal court regarding the company’s unlawful refusal to bargain, the company agreed to return to the table. El Super recently agreed to bargain for the first time in more than a year.

Flores and her fellow workers aren’t making outrageous demands, especially in light of the fact they are owned by a billion-dollar business:

“What we’re trying to do with our consumer boycott of El Super is trying to get something better for our families. We just want the company to hear us, we want them to come and negotiate and give us what is fair. We’re asking for better wages, regular schedules and hours to support our families and respect, that’s what we want.”

About El Super

El Super is managed by the Paramount, Calif.-based Bodega Latina Corp. There are 50 El Super locations in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. Bodega Latina Corp. is 81.4% owned by Mexico-based Grupo Commercial Chedraui (Chedraui). Chedraui operates 211 markets in Mexico. It is Mexico’s third-largest retailer.

In January 2013, Forbes estimated the personal wealth of Chedraui’s chairman of the board, Alfredo Chedraui Obeso, at more than $1 billion. That year the company made $5.1 billion in revenue. The El Super stores make up more than 20% of Grupo Chedraui’s income.

UFCW Local 538 Retirees Take Stand Against Kraft-Heinz Benefit Cuts

538 Kraft-HeinzRetirees from the Kraft-Heinz company in Wisconsin became concerned when they began receiving letters telling them that their health care was changing to give them more “flexibility, choice and control.” Because they had a union while they worked, they reached out to UFCW Local 538 in Madison, Wis., which confirmed that the “choice and control” were really cuts and complications to their health plans.

“What Kraft-Heinz is trying to do is break a promise,” said Doug Leikness, president of UFCW Local 538. “We’d fought hard for retiree health care over the years, and now they are trying to walk back from that commitment and leave their most loyal employees in the lurch.”

UFCW Local 538 immediately began raising the alarm. Kraft-Heinz faced an avalanche of bad press from both local and national publications revealing that more than 15,000 retired workers and their families had been affected by these cuts. However, only former UFCW members had somebody fighting for them.

Rhonda Hansen had worked at the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison for 19 years as a member of UFCW Local 538 before retiring two years ago. Her family depends on the health insurance she earned through years of hard work – especially her husband Dale, who has Alzheimer’s and has suffered from both skin cancer and heart problems.

“Kraft-Heinz is owed by some of the richest people in the world, including Warren Buffet,” said Hansen. “But when they’re looking to cut costs, they pull the rug out under loyal workers like me. I’m just grateful I still part of a union that’s still out there fighting for me.”

While they haven’t rolled back the cuts yet, and the fight still continues. Leikness says UFCW Local 538 is looking for new ways to pursue the struggle to ensure former UFCW members get the benefits they deserve.

Why Unions Matter: Helping Families Through Times of Need

Richard with his mom and dad

Richard with his mom and dad

A year and a half ago, when Richard Kern was 18, he was diagnosed with malignant Melanoma.

While going through treatment, his medical bills soared to exceed $100,000. Thankfully, Richard’s mom is a member of UFCW Local 1059. Because of the collective bargaining agreement UFCW Local 1059 fought for at Kroger where Mrs. Kern works, her health insurance covered a vast majority of Richard’s overwhelming medical costs.

“My bill was in the triple digits instead of the sextuple digits,” said Richard. “Without her union, I would not be going to college. We would have sold at least one of our cars. I’d be working a full-time job or two part-time jobs. And we likely would have had to cash in retirement funds and all the life insurance policies we have. We would have had to give up nearly everything just to pay for a surgery to keep me alive. If it wasn’t for my mother’s union, my family would have been finished.”

Richard can now say he is a cancer survivor. But tragedy very recently struck his family again, when his father had a stroke. Richard’s father was airlifted from his local hospital in Lacaster, Ohio, to the facilities at Ohio State University where doctors fought to keep him from having another stroke.

“Again, the UFCW came to the rescue,” says Richard. “We haven’t yet gotten all the medical bills but the life flight alone was thousands upon thousands. He had two procedures done, saw neurologists, vascular surgeons, cardiologists, and neuro vascular surgeons, along with spending five days in arguably the best hospital in Ohio. The bills will be astronomical. But again, without my mom’s health insurance that the UFCW bargained for at the table, we would have had to pay for it all out of pocket. Which, to be blunt, never would have happened. We would have never been able to pay it all off. Ever.”

“Ever since my battle against cancer”, said Richard, “I’ve been on a mission. And after my dad’s medical troubles, the fire in my heart was set all over again. My goal is to make a speech at the Democratic National Convention. I want to send the message that without unions, the middle class is beyond screwed. I want to send the message that every single person in this country deserves a living wage, not the minimum wage. And I want to send a message that everyone is entitled to quality health insurance. I am living, breathing proof that unions save lives, as is my father.”

Richard says that by fighting for workers’ rights, the union “literally kept me and my dad alive.” Help Richard spread his message, by posting on social media, shopping union-made, or simply telling a worker in your local grocery store or in your favorite retail shop thank you for their service.

Together, unions and the millions of hard-working Americans they represent will continue fighting for workers’ rights and improving the quality of life for the middle class.