On December 30, 2007, we broke the story that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) was planning to step up its campaign to organize store-level employees at Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada beginning in early 2008, with a focus first on Southern California.
Additionally, we reported in that December 30 piece, the union would combine its organizing efforts with a much stronger communications campaign aimed at various aspects of Tesco's business practices worldwide.
Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is one of the few major grocery chains in the threestates that aren't union. The others include Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market, Inc, Wal-Mart Supercenters, Sprout's, Henry's and a couple others.
Today, we can report the union's intensified and more aggressive store-level employee organizing campaign and Tesco/Fresh & Easy corporate-centered communications campaign have started. It looks to be the beginning of a Spring offensive for the UFCW.
The union, which represents retail clerks working for supermarket chains like Vons, Ralph's, Albertsons, Stater Bros., Basha's, Gelson's, Bristol Farms and others (nearly all of the chains and large independents in fact) in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada, has started an aggressive flier mailing and distribution campaign outside Fresh & Easy grocery stores in Southern California.
In addition to handing out the fliers to customers outside of the Fresh & Easy grocery stores in the region, the union also is mass-mailing them to store neighborhood residents' homes.
The fliers being distributed by the union question the handling practices, food-safety and freshness of the fresh meats and produce being sold at the Fresh & Easy grocery stores. On the fliers are testimonials from union butchers and union produce specialists (who work at the union supermarkets mentioned above) stating they're "concerned" about Tesco Fresh & Easy food-safety standards and practices.
The fliers site a situation that occurred in Europe in which Tesco was found to be selling out-of-code and old food in its stores there. Tesco's corporate headquarters in the UK has said the retailer resolved that issue in Europe after learning about it.
UFCW spokesman Mike Shimpock says the union doesn't think its unfair to point out the incident in Europe. He argues Tesco isn't using its corporate name (Tesco) in the U.S. (as part of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market) because of issues like the selling of the out-of-code or bad food in Europe and other similar incidents.
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market spokesman Brendon Wonnacott says Tesco resolved the European food safety issue, and that the company follows all U.S. food-safety laws. Further, he says the retailer stands behind all of the fresh foods it sells in its stores and said the grocer invites consumers to come into the Fresh & Easy stores and see the fresh meats and produce selections and judge the quality for themselves.
Neighborhood residents who live near the Southern California Fresh & Easy grocery stores where the UFCW is doing the mass mailings, have been somewhat startled to receive the fliers questioning the freshness and safety of the fresh meats and produce at the grocery markets.
One of our correspondents, who lives in a neighborhood with a Fresh & Easy grocery store in Southern California, told us a number of her elderly neighbors asked her about the fliers and the food safety issue after they received the mailings.
Food safety is a hot button issue currently, especially with all the recent recalls of fresh hamburger, alfalfa sprouts and other fresh food items. Most shoppers tend to rely on either their supermarket or the news media to alert them about food safety or recall issues. As a result, receiving an "official looking" flier in the mail which questions the safety of certain fresh foods at a local grocery store could have a chilling effect on residents, leading them to avoid the store even if they are unsure if the information on the flier is correct.
Based on the under-performance to date of the Fresh & Easy grocery stores, Tesco really can't afford anything that might decrease bodies coming into its stores. To date, we've seen no organized or proactive communications response from Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market to the UFCW flier mass-mailings or leafleting in front of the grocery stores.
Note: We've written a number of pieces about the UFCW and its campaign to organize Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market store-level employees. You can read a selection of those pieces here