UFCW members picket at the Fresh & Easy store in Manhattan Beach, California on grand opening day, July 2, 2008. Read story here.
The United Foods & Commercial Workers union Local 8-Golden State, based in Roseville, California near Sacramento, launched informational picket lines at three of Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores in the cities of Fresno and Clovis in California's Central Valley today, just one day after the fresh foods and grocery chain opened the three stores in the two cities Wednesday morning.
The three Fresh & Easy stores are located at 2820 Tulare St. and 8059 N. Cedar Avenue in Fresno, and at 790 Shaw Avenue in Clovis. Clovis is a suburb of Fresno and is located right next door to the city.
Tesco also opened a Fresh & Easy market in nearby Lemoore in early December 2009. There are currently four Fresh & Easy stores in the Fresno region. An additional store is set to open next month in Fresno at 2047 West Shaw Avenue. More stores will be opening, likely in late February and early March.
Jacques Loveall, President of UFCW Local 8-Golden State, says the grocery clerks' union is asking shoppers in Fresno and Clovis not to shop at Fresh & Easy and to shop instead at UFCW- unionized grocery stores such as Save Mart, Food Maxx (Both owned by Modesto, California-based Save Mart Supermarkets) Kroger-owned Foods Co, Safeway Stores-owned Vons, local independent Ronnie’s Midway market and the local outlets of the Rite Aid drug chain.
"Tesco, which is Fresh & Easy’s parent company in the United Kingdom, is siphoning money out of our community," Loveall says, regarding the union's informal picketing of the three Fresno-area Fresh & Easy stores. "We are responding to that provocation."
The union local president added: "California has enough challenges without a foreign company (Tesco) coming in with substandard jobs that threaten good local companies that bring value and good jobs to our community. It’s bad enough good American jobs are exported overseas at an alarming rate. Now this global giant from the UK is coming to our country thinking it can take advantage of American workers on our own turf. We will not allow that to happen."
Loveall says Tesco's Fresh & Easy poses a threat to unionized food and grocery market share and to the living standards of UFCW union members' wages and benefits.
"Our members are prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that workers at Fresh & Easy have the same access to the good pay, health care, pension and job security that are enjoyed by Union members," the UFCW union local president says.
The UFCW union has been campaigning against Tesco's non-union status with Fresh & Easy for over two years, as we've reported on and written about extensively for that period of time in Fresh & Easy Buzz. [Our first report was in 2007 here: UFCW Union to Organize Fresh & Easy Clerks in 2008.]
In late September 2009 UFCW Local 8-Golden State launched an informal picketing campaign at three then recently-opened Fresh & Easy stores in the Bakersfield, California region. Two of those stores are in Bakersfield; one at 11100 Olive Drive and the other at 5190 Stockdale Hwy. The third Fresh & Easy store is at 611 Cecil Avenue in nearby Delano. Bakersfield is south of Fresno in the southern Central Valley.
In 2008 the UFCW conducted a very aggressive multi-strategy tactical campaign against Tesco's Fresh & Easy. That campaign included: picketing at Fresh & Easy stores in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada; a multi-media public relations campaign in both the U.S. and UK; the authoring of a shareholder resolution at Tesco's annual meeting in the United Kingdom against Fresh & Easy's non-union status, which failed to pass; along with various other tactics to attempt to get Tesco to open Fresh & Easy to the union.
The UFCW union even was able to get then candidate and now President Barack Obama to sent a letter to Tesco requesting it open Fresh & Easy to union representation, as we reported in this June 2008 story.
Tesco's official position has been that it's the choice of the Fresh & Easy store-level employees, which are the workers the UFCW is attempting to unionize, to vote in favor of UFCW representation if they choose to but that the company has no position pro or con unionization for Fresh & Easy retail employees.
In September 2008, as we reported in this story [September 17, 2008: Store Workers at Huntington Beach Fresh & Easy Demand Union Recognition From Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market] employees of the Fresh & Easy market in Huntington Beach in Southern California asked Fresh & Easy's senior management for recognition as a UFCW union shop.
But as we reported in this story in early October [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] Fresh & Easy's corporate management denied the store workers' request, which isn't an unusual conclusion in such matters.
No open ballot election has taken place for the Huntington Beach Fresh & Easy store employees to date. Our union sources told us last year that the main reason from their end for this is because they were waiting for the U.S. Congress to take up the Employee Free Choice Act legislation, which many thought Congress would do in 2009. However, health care reform prevented Congress from putting the legislation, also called "Card Check," on the agenda. It is expected to be debated this year.
A Fresh & Easy Buzz correspondent talked to a couple employees at the Huntington Beach Fresh & Easy in fall 2009 regarding the union issue. The consensus of the employees was that joining the union had sort of fizzled out as a priority for the workers because of the recession and high unemployment rate, particularly in Southern California. However, we also know the idea of being able to start the unionization process with Fresh & Easy with that one store is far from dead among UFCW organizers.
The UFCW's aggressive unionization campaign against Tesco and its Fresh & Easy chain went rather silent in late 2008, and remained that way for all of 2009.
The UFCW union's public relations media campaign came basically to a halt. The UFCW even stopped updating the Web Site and Blog - fresh & easy facts - it's used against Tesco's Fresh & Easy in the campaign. For example, it hasn't updated the articles part of the site since June 2008.
We don't see signs that the UFCW's campaign to unionize Tesco's Fresh & Easy is about to return to its aggressive 2008 stance anytime soon.
However it's important to note that Local 8-Golden State is one of the strongest and most successful of all the UFCW locals nationwide in terms of organizing and contract negotiations with existing unionized supermarket chains.
For example, in Northern California and the Central Valley, the local's territory, all of the leading supermarket chains - Safeway (Safeway and Vons), Kroger-owned Foods Co and what's left of Cala Foods, Raley's (Raley's, Nob Hill, Bel Air and Food Source) Save Mart (Save Mart, Lucky and FoodMaxx), Albertsons - and most of the small chains, multi-store independents and even many larger single-store independents are unionized.
What the local has been unable to do, even though its region is arguably the strongest unionized grocery market in the nation, is to be able to force non-supermarket food retailing operators like Walmart, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's, Winco Foods and a couple others to unionize, although it has tried and continues to try to do so.
There's significant pressure on the UFCW to unionize these chains, particularly in California, because the union chains like Safeway, Kroger and the others, are coming under continued pressure from these non-union operators in terms of increased competition and encroachment on market share. This is a fact the CEO's of Safeway, Kroger, Stater Bros., Save Mart, Albertson's, Raley's and the other chains with operations in California have made clear via their representatives to the union in contract negotiations.
Fresno could be the new battle ground for the UFCW's continued efforts to unionize the store-level employees of Tesco's Fresh & Easy. But thus far the union's efforts in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada haven't born fruit. We will be falling the developments closely. Stay tuned.
[Readers: Click here and here for an extensive selection of past Fresh & Easy Buzz coverage of the UFCW and Tesco Fresh & Easy unionization issue and related topics. Notice the various links to other stories at the posts at the two links above as well.]