LOS ANGELES -- The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is calling on Safeway employees and consumers across North America to engage in a "shop-out" against the chain.
Speaking at a union pep rally here last week, Doug Dority, UFCW international president, said the union will ask employees, consumers and local communities to honor picket lines the union plans to establish at Safeway stores outside Southern California "within the law and according to the terms of our collective bargaining agreement."
"We are going to ask workers and consumers to honor picket lines and shut down Safeway's profits," Dority said. "We want to empty the stores as well as the cash drawers. Safeway only understands money, so we will take action to cut them off from the source of their money."
He did not indicate when the union will launch the shop-out.
Brian Dowling, a Safeway spokesman, told SN the call for a boycott is nothing new. "It's an old tactic, and it's not going to influence what's going on in Southern California. The irony is, we're going back to the bargaining table, and they're calling for a boycott."
In another speech at the rally, Rev. Jim Lawson, chairman of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, suggested union members might engage in non-violent civil disobedience to achieve their goals.
Ellen Anreder, a union spokeswoman, told SN after the meeting civil disobedience is not part of the union's strategic plan.
The rally was held just three days before the union was scheduled to return to the bargaining table last Friday under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Questioned before the meeting, Greg Denier, a spokesman for the international union, told SN he saw no conflict holding the rally so close to resumption of negotiations "because of the employers' totally outrageous demands."
The rally was held immediately following a "labor summit" to discuss future strategies. Denier said the summit included leaders from approximately 150 UFCW locals in the U.S. and Canada -- representing 80% of the members of the UFCW's 800 locals -- and leaders of the union's industrial councils representing another 250 locals across North America.
Approximately 70,000 members of seven UFCW locals in Southern California went on strike against Safeway on Oct. 11 and were locked out of Albertsons and Kroger-owned Ralphs stores the following day; five weeks later, 8,000 Teamsters walked off the job when the UFCW moved pickets to nine distribution centers operated by the three chains.
At issue in the dispute are possible cuts in the union's health care benefits and a proposal for a new hiring tier with fewer benefits.
In a full-page newspaper ad last week, the three chains chided the union for its tactics. "Instead of addressing the real issues like skyrocketing health care costs, the union has engaged in a sensational campaign to distort the truth. ... We've focused on solutions. But the union has continued to focus on distractions that have put more of a burden on our customers and our employees.
"This strike won't be settled in the parking lot or at a union rally. It will be settled at the bargaining table, and only when the union is ready to put realistic solutions on its to-do list."
In his talk, Dority told union members, "Safeway has taken workers' paychecks by forcing this strike, and it is time we took their profits. Now Safeway is about to steal Christmas from hundreds of thousands of children, and it is time to put a stop to this corporate greed today.
"If the chains succeed, then health care benefits as we know them will be eliminated, and that will create a corporate tidal wave that will sweep away benefits in other contracts."
Part of the reason for the labor summit, he noted, was "to gather financial resources so the workers in Southern California can stay out and so they won't be starved back to work."
Following Dority's remarks, a variety of officials from UFCW locals along with John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, in the U.S. and Canada, stepped to the podium to pledge a total close to $3 million to help striking and locked-out workers in Southern California continue their effort.
The biggest single pledge was made by Local 1500 in New York, which said it would donate $1 million -- one-half of its own strike fund, which hasn't been used in more than 10 years, Frank Meehan, president of the local, said.
During his turn at the podium, Ken Boyd, president of UFCW Local 1546 in Chicago, said his union and Local 881 are scheduled to return to the bargaining table with Safeway's Dominick's chain this week to begin setting dates for negotiations to resume.
Sweeney said the fight to save health care benefits in Southern California "is producing more union solidarity than we've seen in decades, and we encourage our allies and our adversaries to share our solidarity."
"The chains are not out to break the union but to take them down a road to low wages and more part-time work with no benefits," Sweeney said. "Shame on them for what they are trying to do, and shame on us if we don't try to stop them."
Melissa Gilbert, president of the Screen Actors Guild, pledged her union's support for the strike-lockout. "We stand with you until you get the health care benefits you rightly deserve, and SAG members will be on the picket lines with you across Southern California. We are your customers, and we've seen your faces and we want to see you back at work."
John Connelly, president of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, said the chains are involved in "a conspiracy to steal the American Dream. You are on the front line of the American Dream, and we thank you for standing up for every working person in this country."