WORCESTER, Mass. – Arrests are becoming common at the Shaw’s Supermarkets in the Worcester area as Local 1445 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) try to enforce a collective bargaining agreement between the local union and the supermarket chain.

In May, Local 1445 President Rick Charette and UFCW International Vice President William Danio were arrested.

On June 4, John Sweeney, president of the national AFL-CIO, and Doug Dority, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, were arrested at one of the supermarket chain’s stores in Shrewsbury, a suburb of Worcester. Two weeks later, Kathy Casavant, secretary-treasurer of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Kimberly Bobo, director of the National Interfaith Council, as well as Cheryl Acquilino and Susan Phillips, both employed by the UFCW, were arrested in the town of Auburn.

The problem with Shaw’s started last February when the company withdrew recognition of the union, saying that the employees no longer wished to be represented by Local 1445. Shaw’s says that the labor agreement is no longer in effect and took away vacation, sick days and holidays. The labor agreement’s expiration date is January 2004.

Before being arrested, Sweeney told about 100 protestors at a rally, “This company has flagrantly broken the law and denied workers their basic rights. A union simply cannot be silenced because of an employer’s devious and underhanded actions.”

Dority likened the actions of the supermarket chain to former Alabama governor George Wallace, who physically tried to stop African Americans from attending the University of Alabama. Dority is from Virginia and the only southerner to head a national union.

Noting that Shaw’s is owned by the British company J Sainsbury, Sweeney said, “I don’t know how this company treats workers in other countries, but the AFL-CIO will not allow this company to get away with what it is trying to do.” The AFL-CIO president said that he is “prepared to take this to an international level,” if necessary.

Besides the Shaw’s stores throughout the six New England States, Sainsbury also bought the Star Market chain in Massachusetts in 1999.

The UFCW has accused Star Market of engaging in illegal activities to curtail their workers’ right to organize their own union.