On the picket line

Grocery workers fight cutbacks from coast to coast

In the state of Washington, Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger blinked two hours before the strike deadline on Oct. 21, when more than 30,000 grocery workers in six counties near Seattle were mobilizing to hit the bricks. Dave Schmitz, president of Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, noted that the chains’ original contract had “some of the worst [cutbacks] I have ever seen. They tried to turn us into Walmart, [but] they did not succeed.” (ufcw21.org, Oct. 31)

By threatening to strike, the workers, represented by UFCW Locals 21 and 367 and Teamsters 38, rejected a contract that would have frozen their pay for three years, made them pay much more for health care with reduced benefits, and provided no health coverage for part-time workers, whose numbers are rapidly increasing.

What did the workers win? Modest wage increases for all workers, but really essential for lowest paid workers; a secured pension plan; and high quality, affordable health care with no cuts in benefits and no increases in premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

Meanwhile, in the Washington, D.C., area, contract negotiations by UFCW Local 400, representing 17,000 Giant and Safeway workers, were extended from Oct. 31 to Nov. 15. Giant’s transnational owner, Ahold, is trying to impose the same kind of concessions on health care benefits the workers defeated in the Puget Sound area. Local 400 workers used the extension to win support from customers at 30 area supermarkets on Oct. 31. (Union City, online weekly newsletter of Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, Nov. 1)

In New York state, UFCW Local 1500, representing 6,000 workers at Stop & Shop and many other chains from Duchess County to New York City to Long Island, voted to go on strike on Oct. 29, with a contract deadline of Nov. 2. As of Nov. 4, Local 1500 is still at the negotiating table fighting to preserve decent health care benefits, which management is trying to kill, blaming the Affordable Care Act. A strike is still possible, reports a bulletin on ufcw1500.org. Stay tuned.

Kellogg: Stop Memphis lockout, stop union busting!

What’s going on when a $14 billion company suddenly demands draconian changes that break the contract it signed in 2012 and, when the workers object, locks them out? It’s called union busting!

What led to this? Kellogg, the global cereal and snack giant, told 226 workers at its Memphis plant that it wanted to use “casual” labor — part-time workers who would be paid significantly less than current employees and receive substandard benefits — and introduce alternative work schedules. When the workers, represented by Bakery (BCTGM) Local 252G, refused to jump to the company’s tune, they were locked out on Oct. 22. The union then filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

On Oct. 28, BCTGM International Union President David B. Durkee explained that Kellogg was trying to convert good-paying, full-time jobs into “jobs for the working poor.” (bctgm.org) Obviously, Kellogg is counting on using the lockout, as Crystal Sugar did in 2011 and Veolia is doing now with the Boston school bus drivers union, to bully the workers into accepting unacceptable terms and working conditions.

The Memphis plant is obviously a testing ground for Kellogg. If it succeeds there, it’ll use the same strong-arm tactics at its other cereal plants in Omaha, Neb.; Battle Creek, Mich.; and Lancaster, Pa. All out to fight union busting at Kellogg!

D.C. taxi drivers join Teamsters

“We will win! We will win!” chanted hundreds of taxi drivers at the first meeting of the Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association, which formally affiliated with Teamsters Local 922 on Oct. 29. Local 922 President Ferline Buie welcomed the drivers, saying, “It’s time you received the respect and dignity you deserve.” He noted that the association was “created to give the more than 6,000 cab drivers in Washington, who are independent owner- or lease-operators, a united collective voice for positive change in their industry.” Already more than 1,000 drivers have joined the association. (Union City, Oct. 30)