CHICAGO – United Food and Commercial Workers union Locals 881 and 1546, representing 9,000 employees from more than a hundred Dominick’s Food Stores ratified a contract, Nov. 24, after months of tense negotiations.
Safeway, a California based conglomerate, acquired the highly profitable 50-year-old Dominick’s Chain three years ago. However, due to corporate mis-management the chain started to lose customers, although remaining in the black. According to union members immediately after the buyout Safeway replaced locally made products with national brands, which drove customers away.
Throughout the negotiations Safeway proposed reductions in pensions and health care as well as reductions in the starting wage, and freezing wages of current employees. The Corporations “last and final offer” was rejected by an 80 percent margin, which also authorized a strike. In response to the strike authorization Safeway threatened stop negotiations and even close all Dominick’s stores.
The new contract is basically a continuation of the previous contract. But Safeway has agreed to find a buyer for the Dominick’s chain within the next eight months. Union members hope it will be to someone who will respect Chicago customers and employees.
In September, contract negotiations opened with Safeway proposing to make-up those extra profits from workers’ pockets. In a letter to Dominick’s Director of Labor Relations Stan Schwartz, Ronald Powell and Kenneth Boyd, presidents of UFCW Locals 881 and 1546, charged that “Since [Safeway] acquired the [Dominick’s], Safeway’s business decisions have been a slap in the face to Dominick’s loyal customers … the company’s profound disrespect of its employees and the customers they loyally serve is shameful.”
Additionally the UFCW filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board in response to Safeway’s “bullying tactics, threats of store closings and job losses,” just to name a few grievances.
To many Safeway’s disregard for its Chicagoland employees is not a surprise. “These charges are part of a pattern of serious violations of federal labor law by the management of Safeway and Dominick’s,” according to Jonathan Karmel, one of the UFCW’s attorneys. “These tactics are not new to Safeway – they engaged in similar acts in California during a labor dispute last year. Safeway has negotiated in bad faith and has engaged in a campaign of fear and intimidation against its employees in order to unlawfully influence their votes.” But Chicago employees have stood up against forced coercion meetings, searches, a media misinformation campaign and threats of closure and job loses.
Some sources suggest that the Safeway’s threats against healthcare, pension, and a living wage are not limited to Chicago and California but rather part of a systematic campaign to target workers rights in its 1700 supermarkets across North America. Here at least the threat to workers has been temporary fought back.
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