BIRMINGHAM, AL – On Monday evening, the membership of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1657 began taking steps to authorize a strike in the event that Bruno’s and Food World stores are sold to a company that won’t commit to rehiring workers under a new contract. Local 1657 members have already voted at several locations, and balloting in the rest of Alabama and Florida will continue throughout the week.
“Bruno’s workers have given too much to this company to have their careers and livelihoods tossed aside in a fire sale,” said Elaise Fox, president of UFCW Local 1657. “We are eager to work with any buyer that will commit to retaining a majority of current employees with fair wages and benefits. However, we will not stand idly by if a new owner uses Bruno’s self-inflicted financial woes as an excuse to pad its corporate bottom line by destroying thousands of good jobs.”
The current contract between Bruno’s and Local 1657 includes a no strike/no lockout clause. Accordingly, a strike would only be authorized in the event that US Bankruptcy Judge Benjamin Cohen rules in favor of Bruno’s motion to void the existing contract, and a new owner refused to negotiate a contract with the workers.
“”The people who work at Food World and Bruno’s are our neighbors, our congregants, and our families,” said Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, an interfaith community organization representing more than twenty congregations in the Birmingham area. “While the absentee managers who drove this company into the ground ask for huge bonuses, the local employees that are the backbone of Bruno’s are left to fend for themselves. We all hope that a strike can be avoided, but if it comes to that our community will stand with these workers, these neighbors, through thick and thin.”
The assets of Bruno’s Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection in February, are scheduled to be sold at auction on April 29. Fearing the exploitation of Bruno’s employees at the hands of a bidder that won’t protect high-quality grocery jobs, a number of community leaders and organizations have called on Bruno’s to craft an agreement that “both keeps these stores open and keeps these workers in jobs with living wages and benefits.”
Signatories to the letter (which appears below) included Alabama State Senator Phil Poole, Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot, the Jefferson County Central Labor Council, the Birmingham Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Alabama and Birmingham chapters of the NAACP, the Alabama AFL-CIO, and Greater Birmingham Ministries.
UFCW Local 1657, based in Birmingham, represents more than 3,500 grocery and health care workers in Alabama and Florida.
Mr. James Grady
Chief Restructuring Officer
Bruno’s Supermarkets, Inc.
1800 International Park Drive
Birmingham, AL 35243
Dear Mr. Grady:
We are writing regarding the ongoing negotiations for Bruno’s Supermarkets and our concerns about the fate of the workers at these stores.
More than two thousand of our constituents work at Bruno’s. They are the backbone of this community. They are shoppers, they are taxpayers, they are caretakers and, above all else, they are our neighbors.
To ask loyal workers to bear the brunt of Bruno’s mismanagement would cause irreparable damage to this community. Bruno’s made a promise to these workers, and it should not be allowed to renege on that promise while other options still exist. Alabama can not afford to lose thousands of good jobs: the wages and benefits earned by Bruno’s employees help support every other business in the state. The contract Bruno’s entered into is, in these challenging economic times, the only barrier between Alabamans and a race to the bottom.
We urge you to do everything in your power to find a solution that both keeps these stores open and keeps these workers in jobs with living wages and important benefits. We believe that the company, potential buyers, and the workers and their union can find a compromise that does exactly that.
We will continue to monitor this case closely. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any assistance in resolving this situation.
[Signatory individuals and organizations]