PLEASANTON, Calif. -- Safeway here has joined the ranks of other supermarket chains that in recent months have openly declared their support of the right of strawberry workers to organize into unions.
The chain, with 1,368 stores in the United States and Canada, said in a statement that its decision to announce its support of the rights of strawberry workers was "simply the right thing to do."
The declaration arose from an agreement with the United Farm Workers of America, the Watsonville, Calif.-based agricultural union, which is involved in a campaign to organize strawberry workers in the state.
Safeway called the agreement to support strawberry workers' rights "historic" and said that its action to "pledge its support+ to the issues raised by the United Farm Workers on behalf of the strawberry workers in California+ ushers in a new cooperative spirit between Safeway and the UFW."
According to the UFW, the agreement with Safeway "marks the first time in more than 30 years that Safeway and the union+ are working together on issues of concern to agricultural workers."
Debra Lambert, a Safeway spokeswoman, added that the agreement recognizes the chain's right to sell the products its consumers want, in effect deflecting any store boycott over strawberries should the UFW call for one.
The chain's action brings the number of retail food companies that have signed pledges backing the rights of strawberry workers to 27. The union said those retailers operate more than 4,500 stores in 41 states and four Canadian provinces.
Safeway said it supported the workers' right to organize and bargain collectively under the provisions of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act; to seek enforcement of laws and regulations for proper field sanitation, clean drinking water and washing facilities; and to work in a "discrimination-free" environment.
The chain called those "truly basic human rights that everyone in America should enjoy today." Safeway did not say strawberry workers are being denied such rights by strawberry growers.
The UFW has claimed strawberry workers are exposed to dangerous pesticides, live under miserable housing conditions and work under conditions where there is a lack of clean drinking water and clean bathrooms.
Its campaign to organize strawberry workers has been opposed by the Strawberry Workers and Farmers Alliance, a Los Angeles-based group created last year to counter what it said was UFW's "aggressive interference" in the industry.
According to Gary Caloroso, spokesman for the SWFA, the organization is neither pro-union nor anti-union, and Safeway's statement about its agreement with the UFW also essentially supports SWFA's position.
"Basically, Safeway makes it very clear that the pledge is no different from a pledge it would make regarding any other product," Caloroso said.