Tuesday, October 5, 2010

UFCW President Joe Hansen's Chairmanship of Change to Win Adds Fire Power to Union's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Campaign

The UFCW Union & Tesco's Fresh & Easy
News & Analysis

On September 30 the Change to Win (CtW) coalition of U.S. labor unions elected Joe Hansen, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), as its new chairman.

Change to Win is comprised of four labor unions: The UFCW, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Farm Workers of America, which combined represent about 5 million workers in the U.S. The four unions broke off from the AFL-CIO, the largest labor union coalition in the U.S., in 2005 and formed Change to Win. Hansen replaces Anna Burger who has retired as chairwomen of Change to Win.

Hansen, who began his career as a meat cutter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was a volunteer organizer for a local meat cutters union for about a decade, was elected president of the UFCW in 2004. The UFCW has about 1.3 million members who work in the food and grocery retailing, food processing, poultry and food distribution industries in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Hansen made the following statement in excepting the Change to Win leadership post:

"Change to Win is focused on ensuring that workers in the various service sectors have jobs with wages and benefits that can support a family. If these jobs are vital to the American economy, then service sector jobs should come with middle class wages and benefits. We know that a stronger labor movement is essential to the rebuilding of America’s middle class and that will be the primary focus of our work at Change to Win. We will continue our strategic work building strength for workers in our core industries. We will continue our advocacy on key public policy issues, including labor law, pension, and comprehensive immigration reform, food safety and health care. We are also committed to working with the Administration to ensure that the purchasing power of the federal government exercises wise stewardship of taxpayer money by promoting quality, family-supporting jobs. We will continue close coordination with our labor partners at the AFL-CIO on public policy issues. Both labor Federations share unity of purpose to address the crisis facing American workers. Change to Win and the AFL-CIO will work together to make sure that candidates that support working families win in November. The Change to Win unions are more inspired than ever to stand up for workers’ rights and make the economy grow again for working families through good jobs in every community."

In mid-September of this year President Barack Obama named Hansen to the United States Trade Representatives Advisory Committee for Trade Policy, which advocates overseas trade and serves as an advisory body on trade policy to the President and Congress.

Since becoming the UFCW union's president in 2004, increasing U.S. food and meat exports as a way to create more union jobs in the food processing and related industries has been one of Hansen's key political agenda items. The UFCW union and Hanson were strong supporters of Obama in his race for the Presidency.

As the leader of the UFCW for the past six years, Hansen has also been aggressive in attempting to organize workers at numerous non-union food and grocery retailing chains.

The key target among those non-union chains - Walmart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and others - since 2007 has been Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, which has 168 fresh food and grocery stores in California, Nevada and Arizona.

[Note: Fresh & Easy Buzz has reported on and written extensively about the UFCW union's Tesco Fresh & Easy campaign and its efforts to organize the grocery chain's store-level employees. If you click here, here and here you can read a selection of our stories on the topic and issue. Use the 'Older Posts/Newer Post' links at the bottom of each page to get additional pages/stories.]

The Change to Win coalition and its CtW Investment Group arm have also recently been involved in the UFCW's organization efforts of Tesco's Fresh & Easy. This summer the coalition, joined by the UFCW, went on the attack over the $6 million-plus 2009 pay package Tesco gave to Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO Tim Mason, who's also a Tesco director.

CtW Investment Group, which has UFCW union pension fund money invested in Tesco, launched a campaign, which included attendance at Tesco's shareholders meeting in London in July, in which it encouraged shareholders to vote against the retailer's remuneration package, which is the pay package Tesco gave to its key executives/board members for the year.

The remuneration package was approved by shareholders but only by a slim margin.

The campaign drew considerable attention to Mason's pay package, as well as those of a number of other Tesco top executives who serve on the company's board. Numerous Tesco shareholders, along with analysts and others argued the pay packages were excessive, based on the global retailer's performance, particularly Mason's, since Fresh & Easy lost $253 million dollars in its 2009/10 fiscal year. [Read: July 5, 2010: Verbal Fireworks at Tesco's 2010 Sharholders' Meeting in London. Also see the links to the additional linked stories under the Related Posts heading in the July 5 piece.]

It's our analysis, as well as knowledge gained in discussions with sources in good positions to know, that UFCW president Hansen's taking over as chair of Change to Win will lead to increased activity on the part of the coalition and its investment arm regarding Tesco and its Fresh & Easy chain.

Since Tesco's Fresh & Easy has been (and is currently) a key (if not the key) non-union grocery chain being focused on by the UFCW, and since the CtW Investment Group's June/July 2010 campaign was successful in using the excessive pay issue to bring attention to Fresh & Easy's non-union status and the UFCW's efforts to change that by organizing store-level workers, look for more integration between the UFCW and Change to Win as the grocery clerk's union ratchets up its organizing of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market employees in the coming months, and particularly in Northern California in early 2011, when the first batch of stores are set to open in the region.

Additionally, look for the union and the coalition to revisit the excessive pay topic, particularly as it applies to Tim Mason, who in March 2011 will get the title of co-CEO of Tesco plc, although he won't actually share CEO duties with incoming CEO Philip Clarke. Tesco says Mason will remain in California as CEO of Fresh & Easy. He will take on new responsibilities for branding and climate change for Tesco when he gets the co-CEO title in March 2011. [See - June 8, 2010: Tesco CEO Terry Leahy Retiring; Philip Clarke New CEO; Tim Mason Named Deputy CEO But Will Remain Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Chief in U.S.]

Tesco CEO Leahy, who retires in March 2011, has been frustrated by the UFCW's efforts to unionize Fresh & Easy. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO Tim Mason has been virtually silent on the issue.

In March 2011, new CEO Philip Clarke, a Tesco veteran, will get a chance to observe the union's campaign and Fresh & Easy store-level worker organizational effort first hand when he comes to America to visit the stores as part of his evaluation of money-losing Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, which Tesco will later today report how much its lost on for the first half of its 2010/11 fiscal year. [See -October 4, 2010: Tuesday's Tesco Interim Report Offers A Road Map of Sorts For the Future of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.]

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