On Monday, 31 workers at a Bestway supermarket in Falls Church, Virginia, went back to work after being illegally fired in retaliation for forming a union. The workers picketed their store for more than ten days before reaching an agreement with Bestway last week to reinstate the workers and begin negotiations for their first union contract.
“We are so happy to be going back to work today,” said Matilde Reyes, a veteran worker who has been with Bestway for more than 13 years. “Bestway has agreed to respect us and follow the laws that protect workers’ rights. I can’t wait for the day when workers at all Bestway Supermercados get the same rights that we now have at our store.”
The workers at the Bestway store formed a union in late September, with the overwhelming majority of store employees signing cards to join UFCW Local 400. But Bestway ignored the workers’ requests to recognize their union and set bargaining dates. Instead, the company engaged in systematic illegal retaliation against union supporters by cutting hours, changing schedules, holding one-on-one interrogation meetings, and threatening to call immigration on the workers, among other scare tactics.
Workers staged a one hour work stoppage on October 9 to protest the retaliation and Bestway’s failure to recognize the union. Bestway retaliated against its staff again, and fired 31 workers, an action that violated national labor laws.
But the workers refused to back down, staging a daily picket line outside the store to educate customers on the unfair treatment and violations of labor law. After seeing a noticeable decrease in business, Bestway reached an agreement with workers on Friday to reinstate all terminated workers, recognize UFCW Local 400 as their union, provide back pay to terminated workers, and begin contract negotiations with workers this week.
“This has always been about respect and dignity on the job,” said Nerida Castro, a Bestway worker whose two daughters walked the picket line with her. “My girls saw the power people can have when we stand together for what’s right. I did this for them.”
Carlos Hernandez, who works in the seafood department, credited the support of the local community for convincing Bestway to recognize the workers’ union.
“Our customers were really on our side. So many customers turned their cars around after hearing our stories. It’s their actions that helped convince management to listen to us. I want to thank each and every one of our customers and I look forward to seeing them back at Bestway now that we are a union shop.”
The workers will begin bargaining with Bestway this week to negotiate a union contract that ensures that the store complies with all labor regulations and provides living wages and benefits.