Workers Defeat UFCW

In recent years, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has experienced a number of setbacks. Since 2001, the union has lost over 100,000 members. In addition to declining membership, the union has experienced unwanted press attention over the past few years. For example, after a 2015 indictment, UFCW’s organizing coordinator for the marijuana industry was sentenced to prison for fraud and other crimes late last year. Another UFCW boss, Mickey Kasparian, has been mired in a scandal involving sexual harassment and discrimination for over a year. In January, two officials at two different UFCW locals were indicted for crimes, including racketeering; both men are alleged to have had ties to the Mafia.

On February 7th, the UFCW suffered another setback. On that day, there was an ambush unionization election at a co-op grocery store in Northfield, Minnesota, a Democratic-leaning city about 40 miles south of Minneapolis. While the workers who supported unionization had the backing of UFCW Local 1189, the workers who opposed the union were on their own. The co-op’s management remained neutral; and no third-party organization intervened. In the end, however, the union’s opponents didn’t need help; they were able to defeat the UFCW — one of the largest and wealthiest unions in the country — with over 55% of the vote.

The secretive unionization effort began last summer, but it took until last month for the union to finally collect the 12 signatures that it needed for an election. Pathetically, the unionization campaign still resorted to using dishonest tactics to gather these few signatures. For example, some co-op employees were told that signing a union authorization card only meant that they wanted more information. (In actuality, signing such a card gives a union the right to represent an employee.) Co-op workers were also falsely told that over two-thirds of the staff had already signed the cards.

Many co-op employees were unaware of the UFCW’s campaign until the posting of the Notice of Petition for Election in January. There was no agreement among union supporters as to why exactly the store needed a union. Some workers wanted higher pay, while others claimed the co-op had engaged in unspecified unfair labor practices. The union organizer claimed the co-op was hiding money from its workers and could afford to pay them more. It’s unclear how she would know this.

Several co-op employees decided to fight the union. One of the union’s opponents, Bob N., managed to get a copy of the contract that the UFCW negotiated with a Minneapolis co-op grocery store. Bob posted this contract in his store’s break room. It turns out that the Northfield co-op’s wages and benefits were as good as — and in some ways better than — the compensation package that the UFCW had negotiated with the co-op in the much larger city. Of course, unlike the employees of the Minneapolis store, the workers at the Northfield store don’t have to pay union dues. Bob also wrote several newsletters and put up a number of posts from the UFCWMonitor.com, a blog that chronicles the activities of the union, for his co-workers to read.

Although the UFCW had the advantage of both time and resources, it still lost the ambush election. It appears the UFCW would like to try to unionize the Northfield co-op again next year. The good news is that next time, the union’s opponents will have had an entire year to prepare for the election, rather than less than three weeks. Bob and his co-workers who opposed the UFCW are a great example of how regular people, with very little time to organize, can still defeat a powerful union when they’re armed with the facts.

 

 

 

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