Tuesday, August 5, 2008

UNI Global Union Launches Tesco-Specific Alliance; Calls For Tesco Executives to Meet With UFCW Union Officials Over Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market

The Nyon, Switzerland-based UNI Global Union has launched what it's calling The UNI Tesco Global Union Alliance, which it says is designed to "develop constructive labor relations with Tesco PLC, parent company of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA, and to become a recognized and constructive social partner with Tesco to promote the well being of the company's workforce" around the world.

UNI is a global union for skills and services with 15 million members worldwide. It has about 1,000 member-unions located in countries throughout the world. Members of UNI global include the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which represents about 1.3 million retail supermarket clerks and workers in related positions in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

As we've reported on and written about extensively, the UFCW is conducting an aggressive multi-front campaign in the U.S. and UK designed to get Tesco senior executives to meet with union officials to discuss the issue of unionizing its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market store-level workers in the U.S. states of California, Nevada and Arizona, where the retailer's current 67 Fresh and Easy small-format grocery stores are located.

According to Philip J. Jennings, General Secretary of the UNI Global Union, the UNI Tesco Global Union Alliance, which was formed on June 18, plans to grow union representation in Tesco in all of the countries it operates stores in globally. Those countries include: The United Kingdom, Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Turkey, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and the United States (Fresh & Easy).

The UNI Global Union says it has affiliate unions (among its 1,000 members) that represent workers in "the commerce sector" an all of the above countries, with the exception of Communist controlled China, where it has a relationship with the government controlled Commercial Workers Union.

UNI Global Union-head Jennings says a key focus of the alliance is to get Tesco PLC executives to meet with officials of the U.S.-based UFCW union to discuss the unionization of the retailer's Fresh & Easy grocery stores in the Western U.S.

Jennings says a dialogue between Tesco and UFCW officials is the way to go forward, saying the UNI Tesco Global Union Alliance plans to help the UFCW break what he calls the "deadlock" between the union and Tesco.

"The UNI Tesco Global Union Alliance calls upon Tesco to enter into a dialogue with the UFCW union," which is an affiliate of the global union group, "in the United States," Jennings said in a statement on June 18 in announcing the formation of the Tesco-specific global union alliance.

Additionally, he says: "European companies should not adopt double standards on labor issues when they go overseas," referring to the fact that Tesco's European stores are unionized, while its Fresh & Easy grocery stores in the U.S. aren't.

As a part of its charter, the new Tesco-specific global union alliance says it wants to "enter into a constructive dialogue with Tesco PLC to find mutually beneficial solutions to promote the business success of the company along with the interests of its workers."

Among its chief concerns, the global union alliance says, is recognition of trade unions by Tesco in a number of the countries it does business in, including in the U.S. with Fresh & Easy.

While it seems the intent of the new UNI Tesco Global Union Alliance is to have an ongoing dialogue with Tesco on a global basis, its goal of increasing union membership within Tesco divisions throughout the world, especially in the U.S., could be a non-starter as far as Tesco is concerned.

Regarding its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA division, which is currently Tesco's fastest-growing globally in terms of the number of new stores being opened, as we've reported, the retailer maintains its ongoing position that it sees no need or has no desire to meet with officials of the UFCW union to discuss unionization issues.

Further, Tesco PLC CEO Terry Leahy and Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA CEO Tim Mason, have both said on more than one occasion the company's position is that the UFCW is free to organize Fresh & Easy store-level employees in California, Nevada and Arizona in accordance with U.S. federal labor laws, and that it is the workers' choice as to whether or not they want to join the union via a secret ballot election.

Tesco has been firm on this position. Therefore, since one of the primary focuses of the UNI Tesco Global Union Alliance is to get Tesco officials to meet with UFCW leaders, which also is the purpose of the extensive UFCW union's campaign, and Tesco's position remains unchanged in terms of saying it sees no need or purpose of such a meeting, we see essentially a stalemate in terms of much progress being made between the global union alliance and Tesco on a variety of issues.

Additionally, although about 1,000 global unions are members of UNI Global, each has its own priorities and focuses. As we know from alliances such as the United Nations and the European Union, reaching consensus on a global basis isn't the easiest thing to do for any organization.

Therefore, we will watch closely to see if the larger, global desires (especially as it pertains to Europe) of the alliance's relations with Tesco, combined with the UFCW union's more immediate goals vis-a-vis Tesco's Fresh & Easy in the U.S., result in more cooperation between the union affiliation, end up resulting in a competitive position, or merely are rendered not all that affective because of the difficulty of balancing global union policies with more immediate local union priorities.

The formation of the UNI Tesco Global Union Alliance, and its support of a meeting between UFCW officials and Tesco executives does however add an additional element to the UFCW's Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market campaign.

As a result of this continuing pressure on Tesco's Fresh & Easy, which is struggling in a number of ways without the union issue, Tesco could decide to sit down with the union leaders for a meeting in order to take some of the heat off. This could be especially true if the UFCW and its union coalition partners are able to garner significant consumer support for the issue, which has yet to happen in our analysis.

After all, major U.S. food and grocery retailers like Wal-Mart, Inc., Whole Foods Market, Inc., and Trader Joe's have been able to prevent unionization of their respective chains by the UFCW for decades, with no sign of that situation changing any time soon.

Additionally, there are a number of fast growing chains such as the natural foods retailers Sprouts Farmers Market, Sunflower Farmers Market and Henry's Farmers Market, all which are based in the U.S. West like Tesco's Fresh & Easy is, that are non-union.

These two combined facts allow Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market to point out it's far from the only and far from the largest U.S. grocery chain to be non-union. Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's for example all have far more stores and do far more in annual sales currently than Fresh & Easy does.

Tesco is the world's third largest retailer after France's Carrefour and Wal-Mart, Inc. Therefore, like Wal-Mart, despite the size of its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA at present, it's a global giant and therefore will continue to be a focus of labor unions, especially the UFCW in the U.S. That much we can guarantee.

No comments: