The UAW Contract And A Defense Of The UFCW
Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2007
I work at the United Food and Commerical Workers Union, and I'd like to
respond to this recent comment in a piece on the UAW's new contract:
"This horrific sellout is going to turn up on bargaining tables in
every sector where people work. At least the California Grocery
Strike workers hit the bricks for months before they fell for the
lies of their union bosses."
It's true, the Southern California supermarket industry witnessed one of the
longest and most bitter strikes in 2003-04 as workers walked picket lines
for four and a half months in a fight to resist employer demands to
eliminate affordable health care, to impose a substandard wage and benefit
structure on new workers, and to rewrite contract provisions that provided
worker protections. While striking workers were able to maintain much of
their wage and benefit package, the employers forced provisions to severely
limit wages and benefits for new employees.
What the writer fails to mention is that the UFCW, the union that represents
the California Grocery workers, throughout 2007 has been experiencing an
extraordinary reversal in power and strength at the bargaining table due to
a national grocery worker solidarity movement and massive grassroots efforts
and community engagement. The UFCW has been leading a nationwide revival of
worker bargaining strength that is winning contracts with unified wage
progressions with the elimination of two-tier wage systems, adequately
funded health benefit plans, continued defined-benefit pension plans; and
innovative programs for preventive and wellness care benefits with no
co-pays, no deductibles and no out-of-pocket expenses for workers.
The recent ratification of a new contract for 60,000 UFCW members in
Southern California, which Peter Dreier in the LA Daily News made the UFCW a
"nominee for the "comeback of the year" award," confirmed the changing
dynamic in contract negotiations for grocery workers. And the LA Times said
that "the new pact gave United Food and Commercial Workers union members
working at Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons their first raises in five years,
greatly improved healthcare benefits for the majority of the workers and put
everyone on the same pay scale."
The 2007 contract, reached without a strike, represents a new bargain for
workers that could shape the future for retail workers. The new contract
gives all employees a new opportunity for good jobs and career opportunities
in an industry that is a critical source of jobs in the new service economy,
particularly young workers and women.
The new dynamic at work shaping the 2007 round of UFCW bargaining began with
a grassroots program--a systematic program to build unity among workers,
communities, consumers and local unions "the" unity bargaining? program. In
every negotiation, grocery workers from across the country are enlisted to
support workers in bargaining everywhere in the country. Mobilization for
contract fights is union-wide and connects with all UFCW members.
And members can see that--I've been on the ground and seen the excitement
for these new contracts and the hope they provide workers for future
For those of on the list who seem determined to demonize all unions and
"union bosses", I'd challenge you to take another look at what many
progressive unions have been doing to advocate for workers during a time
when workers haven't had many other advocates at all. The UFCW, for
example, is suing ICE for its violation of workers' rights during raids on
Swift Co. plants across the country. And we're fighting for the right to a
union for workers in Smithfield, who work in some of the most horrible,
dangerous conditions anywhere in the country. And I could name a hundred
other fights we're fighting out there, right now, for workers. (You can
check out what we're doing at www.ufcw.org.)
Furthermore, most of the people I work with here come straight from
factories, meat-packing plants, and grocery stores themselves--working class
people who are genuinely concerned about the interests, rights, and geniune
well-being of workers. They are not corrupt, greedy "union bosses"--they
are compassionate people who want to help make work better for our members.
And those of us who are not from working class backgrounds have made
improving things for working class people our focus and passion.
Everyone is certainly entitled to his or her own opinion regarding organized
labor and individual unions. And I know there are always a few bad apples
out there that serve as signifiers for those looking for deficiencies in
But please don't use unions as a convenient scapegoat to blame all of the
problems of working people on. The image of unions as corrupt and bloated
entities is an outdated one. I suggest updating your union knowledge to see
what unions are doing now. Because I guarantee that we're doing a lot more
than some to improve the lives of workers in the US and around the world.
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