Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tesco Fresh & Easy Denies Huntington Beach Store Employees Request to Be Recognized As A Union Store; Next Step Likley to Be Open Ballot Election

As we suggested would likely be the outcome in this September 17, 2008 report and story, "Store Workers at Huntington Beach Fresh & Easy Demand Union Recognition From Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market," Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has denied the formal, written request by workers at the Huntington Beach Fresh & Easy store to be recognized by the company as a union shop.

"We rejected the initial request and asked them (the store employees) to go through the process outlined by the National Labor Relations Board," Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott said Thursday.

The news Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market denied the workers request was first reported earlier today in a report by staff writer Nancy Luna in the Orange Country Register newspaper.

Late last week Fresh & Easy Buzz spoke with a Huntington Beach Fresh & Easy store employee. That employee said the workers expected Tesco's Fresh & Easy to reject their demand to be formally recognized as a United Foods & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union store, saying it's been the grocery chain's position all along that if it came to possible unionization the employees would have to go through the formal process in order to achieve that objective.

That formal process now will be for the store's employees to eventually hold an open ballot election among themselves, after obtaining permission to do so from the National Labor Relations Board. If a simple majority -- 50% -- of the store's workers vote in favor of the union under labor board guidelines, Tesco must recognize their union status upon certification by the labor board.

The next step for the store employees is to take their demand to be UFCW union-affiliated to the labor board.

Prior to any vote taking place, Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is allowed to meet with the workers and make its case as to why it believes joining the union would be a mistake in the company's estimation. This often is a long and elaborate process between companies, employees and unions, and often includes the hiring of professional consulting firms, many which are owned by former labor union negotiators, who specialize in persuading employees it's against their and the company's interests to join the union.

The UFCW also is allowed to lobby the workers in favor of joining the union. Since the store employees have already indicated their desire to be unionized, that process should be less of an issue in this case. What's uncertain at this point in time is if there is a 50% majority of the 25 or so Huntington Beach Fresh & Easy store-level workers to vote in favor of unionization in an open ballot election.

The Huntington Beach employee we talked to, along with another store worker we talked to last month, both say they believe a majority exists at present in favor of unionization.

However, as we said, Tesco will have the right to lobby the employees -- as well as perhaps offer incentives -- against joining the union.

Of course, the union also can continue to make its case. Both parties must do so within established labor board laws and guidelines.

Mike Shimprock, a spokesman for the UFCW, told Nancy Luna for her report: "This isn't a setback. "This forced Fresh & Easy to show their hand. Now we know we're dealing with an anti-union company."

Tesco's Fresh & Easy hasn't elaborated on its initial position as quoted above.

We spoke with a person involved in the UFCW campaign to unionize Fresh & Easy store-level workers today. That source said the union plans to work with the Huntington Beach store employees within federal labor law guidelines to hold an open ballot election.

as we reported in this September 26 piece, "News & Analysis: Employees At Two More Fresh & Easy Grocery Stores Could Soon Request UFCW Union Recognition From Tesco's Fresh & Easy," our sources tell us employees of at least one and possibly two more Fresh & Easy stores are potentially close to requesting formal union recognition by Tesco like the Huntington Beach store workers did.

It's possible though that today's denial of that recognition by the company could change the plans of the employees of these two stores. We're working on obtaining fresh information in that regard.

Logic suggests it might make more sense now that Tesco has denied the request, as we suggested would likely be the case, for any additional groups of store employees at other stores to go the election route, since any letters requesting union recognition they send to the company would most certainly be met with the same response as the Huntington Beach store employees have received. After all, it's now company policy to deny such requests.

Getting employees of a second store to decide they too want union representation would be a big achievement for the UFCW, both in realistic but also in public relations terms, as it would suggest a trend or movement is brewing among Fresh & Easy store-level workers rather than desired unionization being limited to a single store.

There's a current potential political development which could greatly aid the UFCW union's efforts to unionize Fresh & Easy store-level employees, along with workers at other non-union supermarkets.

Numerous Democratic members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are in favor of passing a law called the Employee Free Choice Act. Democratic candidate for President Barack Obama also supports the legislation. Republican candidate John McCain is opposed to it.

Under the new law, which would replace the current open ballot process, employees would be able to sign cards authorizing their desire for union representation rather than going through the long process leading up to a secret ballot vote.

Rather than a 50% majority having to approve of unionization in an election, if 50% of say Fresh & Easy store workers signed what is called the "quick check" cards, they would qualify for union certification.

The Employee Free Choice Act legislation was barely defeated in the U.S. Senate in 2007 by a vote of 51 (against) -to- 49 (in favor). The House of Representatives passed the bill before handing it over to the Senate (that's the practice) by a vote of 241 -to- 185, which means based on the math some House Republicans also voted in favor of the bill.

However, the bill would have had to pass both bodies of Congress in order to then be sent to the President to be signed into law. Additionally, President George W. Bush indicated at the time he would veto the bill if passed by the Senate.

Senator Obama however has said he will support the Employee Free Choice Act if elected President.

Additionally, the Democrats are expected to pick up a number of new House and Senate seats in the upcoming November 4 election.

Since the bill already passed in the House, the key test when it is reintroduced -- which both House and Senate Democratic leaders have said they will do next year -- will be if the Democrats can pick up enough new seats in the election to pass the bill next year. It was only defeated last year in the senate by two votes.

If the Employee Free Choice Act were to become law next year, it would significantly change the balance of power in situations like the UFCW-Tesco Fresh & Easy unionization situation, giving much more power to the union and those employees who want union representation than they currently have.

The main reason it does this is the act eliminates the process in which companies can spent a great deal of time lobbying employees against joining a union. The "quick check" card provision of the act eliminates the open ballot election in favor of allowing employees to just check their preference -- pro or con union representation -- on a card.

We are continuing to work this story, particularly in determining if and when the UFCW and the Huntington Beach store employees will request an open ballot election from the Los Angeles division of the National Labor Relations Board, which is the next step in the process.

As of today, the board's Los Angeles office says such an election has yet to be requested. However, the employees have only recently received the news from Tesco's Fresh & Easy.

1 comment:

sandy223 said...

Looks like Tesco is playing hardball with its Fresh & Easy employees in Huntington Beach. The British chain has rejected a request by employees who have asked to form a union.
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