Members of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 are preparing and training in advance of a collective bargaining fight with grocery chains Giant and Safeway in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. The current contract ends in March of 2012, but the union has requested an early start to negotiations, only to be rejected by the grocery chains. The fight looks to be a tough one:
“Yes, there are reasons to expect that negotiations will be difficult,” [UFCW Local 400 President Tom] McNutt said. “What’s happened in Southern California this year is a perfect example,” he added.
McNutt said contract talks in California earlier this year were characterized by sharp tensions, including threats of a strike or lockout. A coalition of union locals there struggled for nearly a year with three large grocery chains in the area—including Safeway—over wages, health care benefits and pensions, he said.
“We need an early start to avoid the problems we saw in California. I’m hopeful Giant and Safeway will agree before it is too late,” McNutt said.
The corporations are saying that they are facing tough times and that concessions will be necessary from the employees. But the facts show otherwise:
Giant, which is owned by Royal Ahold NV, a Netherlands-based company, raked in profits of $29.5 billion euros, up 4.4 percent from last year’s total sales. The company’s CEO, Dick Boer, made $2.7 million euros in total compensation last year and CFO Kimberly Ross received nearly $3 million euros. The bulk of Ahold’s profits are generated by the company’s unionized American workers. Last year, Safeway also survived the recession with an increase in sales to $41.5 billion dollars, which meant the company and its shareholders enjoyed $1.2 billion in profits, while CEO Steve Burd’s compensation increased to nearly $11 million.
Meanwhile, half of the employees at these companies make $10 an hour or less. President McNutt recently rallied the members for the coming battle:
“We’ve got to stand together as one,” Local 400 President Tom McNutt told the stewards, “because we’re up against greedy, amoral multinational corporations that care about nothing other than their bottom line, and we’re up against global economic and domestic political forces arrayed against us.
“That might sound intimidating, but we can do it,” McNutt said. “Because there is strength in numbers and power in our collective will.
“We’re looking to you to engage our members one on one, to hold meetings among all your sisters and brothers at your store, and to fully participate in all union-wide events, too,” McNutt explained. “Talk to our members, listen to them, engage them, motivate them, energize them, activate them. Help them understand how we’re all in this together, and how much of a profound difference in their lives they will make by playing an active role in this round of bargaining.
“For we are family,” he said. “One big family. Just like family, we’ve got to have each other’s backs. We’ve got to treat an attack on one like it’s an attack on all. And we’ve got to always put our family first.”
Hundreds of UFCW members recently went through training seminars to prepare them for the organizing efforts for rallying co-workers and public support for the negotiations.