Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, a 33,000 member union in northern California, work in retail grocery and meat, wholesale meat and food processing, agriculture, retail drug, clothing and jewelry and many other professions.
The union says the year 2011 poses unprecedented challenges for its members working in the grocery industry. Major contracts with Safeway and Lucky, covering a large percentage of Local 5 members, will expire in October. Meanwhile, non-union operators like Walmart , Fresh and Easy, Target, Henrys, Sprouts and Trader Joe’s have announced plans to move into or expand operations in northern California. Many of these companies have said they plan to move into “food deserts” - areas that have not had grocery stores in years.
Local 5 says the answer to meeting the multiple challenges of achieving a good grocery agreement meeting members’ needs, while fighting to keep out bottom-feeding employers and assuring that residents of underserved communities have good places to shop, lies with its members.
Its Neighborhood Grocery Initiative is a multifaceted effort to mobilize members and community to confront employers who don’t want to recognize the efforts of Local 5 members who have made northern California one of the most profitable places in the U.S. to sell groceries. The local says it will take on employers who try to drive down conditions by opening non-union. And it will work with communities and cities to make sure grocery jobs coming in will offer residents the same wages and benefits that have been fought for in the area for over 70 years.
Below is one Local 5 member’s account of an action in that initiative.
UFCW’s fight to stop Walmart
By Tatyana Torregian
SAN FRANCISCO - “Stop the Corporate Greed!” That’s what my red “stop sign” sticker reads, emblazoned onto the UFCW Local 5 jacket I’m wearing in front of the Safeway store at 2020 Market St. in San Francisco.
I’m part of today’s [Jan. 31] National Walmart Action Events. Next stop will be the Oakland/Piedmont Safeway later in the day.
Along with dozens of other union members, I’m protesting the projected 30 to 35 Walmart s to be built in the San Francisco area in the coming months and years. I’m telling Safeway customers as they exit, “Thank you for shopping at a union store!”
I’m giving out fliers telling them to consider the next time they might go into or buy Walmart items - the employees are not union-affiliated in any way, they have horrible pay and only part-time hours, and not great insurance coverage, if any at all.
With us today in San Francisco are Jobs with Justice members, who are also giving out our “Stop Corporate Greed” stickers and our fliers.
Our urgent message is this: Please shop only union stores, let union employees stay employed!
After two hours in San Francisco, our party moved to the Safeway store in Oakland/Piedmont, where we stayed two more hours.
We called our Day 1 action plan a success. We union members will be having many more Walmart Action Events in the coming months.
We need help getting the message out to mainstream America: Save union jobs, shop union stores. Take action against Walmart ’s plan to open more stores. Not one Walmart megastore should stand in the way!
Photo: Lena Nguyen (l) and Tatyana Torregian in San Francisco. The photo is courtesy of UFCW Local 5.