It has proven to be a significant year for collective bargaining between supermarkets and their employees, and Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Washington, feels that it has been a successful one for his union’s 1.3 million members.
“The contracts that were signed had a lot of great qualities,” he said. “We had real wage increases across the board, expanded affordable health care for workers, particularly parttimers, and established a number of employer well health care/preventative medicine measures.
“And those gains were reached through the coordination of our local unions, our members being active, and through the relationships with the employers that have a shared commitment to find solutions for the challenging problems, so there were no work stoppages, strikes or anything to settle those 17 major contracts.”
The 17 contracts included retailers such as Shaw’s Supermarkets in Connecticut, Kroger workers of Local 1529 in Memphis, Tenn., and Local 951 in Michigan, and Stop & Shop workers of Local 342, Mineola, N.Y., among others.
Over the past year, UFCW has also worked to expand union membership among supermarket workers at a number of regional chains.
“Our locals are engaged in all kinds of state-level policy work that relate to the supermarket industry, like food policy and zoning issues in terms of grocery stores and big-box stores,” Hansen said.
UFCW has continued to highlight wage, health care and worker treatment issues at Wal-Mart, which for years has posed a seemingly insurmountable challenge to groups that have tried to organize its workers.
For example, in a recent published statement, Hansen said that Wal-Mart’s announcement last month that it would educate its employees about their eligibility for Earned Income Tax Credits was simply another company effort to polish its image.
“Wal-Mart is in the midst of an aggressive campaign to change its public persona,” Hansen said.
“But what it needs to change are its corporate practices. Shouldn’t Wal-Mart begin by taking responsibility for its own workers?”
Rising health care costs remain a pressing issue for union members and their employers, and Hansen and UFCW are focusing on the 2008 election, supporting Sen. Barack Obama, according to Jill Cashen, spokeswoman for the UFCW.
“We are mobilizing to elect a new president, someone who we believe will give workers a fair shake at the American dream and reform health care so we can lift this burden off of these businesses that do the right thing,” Cashen said.
“Our union — and President Hansen in particular on a personal level — is very committed to doing whatever it takes to achieve real health care for all Americans next year.”
— AMY SUNG