The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union's UFCW 8-Golden State local, which represents unionized grocery store workers in parts of Northern California and in the Central Valley, today established an informational picket line at the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market store in the Oakmore Plaza shopping center at 1717 Oakdale Road in Modesto, California, pictured below on opening day, Wednesday, March 23. [See - March 23, 2011: Tesco Opens First Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Store in California's Northern Central Valley Today - in Modesto; and March 19, 2011: Preview: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is Headed to Save Mart Supermarket's Hometown of Modesto.]
The picket line is and will be in front of the store, near the intersection of Oakdale Road and East Briggsmore Avenue, according to Jacques Loveall, the President of UFCW 8-Golden State.
A Fresh & Easy Buzz correspondent visited the store today and talked with the UFCW union picketers who were out front. They told our correspondent they will be at the store this weekend, when the Tesco owned non-union grocer continues its grand opening at the first Fresh & Easy market in Modesto.
Among the special activities planned at the Oakdale Road Fresh & Easy store this weekend include: food sampling, music, giveaways, and balloon artists and face painting for the kids. El Segundo, California-based Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has been offering these activities at the seven fresh food and grocery markets it's opened so far this year in Northern California.
The informational picket line at the Modesto store is a continuation of what UFCW 8-Golden State has been doing at selected Fresh & Easy stores in the Fresno and Bakersfield metro regions in the Central Valley. Members of the local have been staffing the picket lines at many of the 14 stores in the two metro areas (seven stores in each respective region) on a regular basis since the first units were opened in Bakersfield an Fresno. [For example, see - January 14, 2010: UFCW Union Launches Informal Boycott of Fresno CA Fresh & Easy Stores Today; One Day After the Stores Open.]
UFCW 8-Golden State doesn't represent unionized grocery store employees in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the majority of the seven Fresh & Easy stores opened thus far are located.
Union grocery store workers in the Bay Area region are represented by UFCW Local 5, which has had informational picketers at some of the Bay Area stores but not at every store every day. [For example, see - March 9, 2011: Northern California Launch: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Opens Store in Pacifica Today. However, Local 5 is gearing up for a major effort targeting Fresh & Easy store workers in the Bay Area, according to our sources.
We first reported in 2010 that this would occur when the first Fresh & Easy markets opened in Northern California in 2011.
We also reported last year that once Fresh & Easy opened its first store in Modesto, which is the grocer's first unit in the Northern Central Valley, UFCW 8-Golden State would establish an informational picket line at the store right away. The Modesto store opened on Wednesday. The union local established its informational picket line today, two days later.
The UFCW union has been trying to organize Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market store-level workers since the first stores were opened in November 2007.
This year is a big one for the UFCW union and unionized grocers in California: The union's contracts in both Southern and Northern California expire in 2011.
Contract negotiations have already started between the UFCW locals in Southern California and the region's top-four unionized chains - Kroger-owned Ralphs, Safeway's Vons, Albertsons and Stater Bros. -where the current contract now has expired.
Later this year the Northern California union locals will begin contract negotiations with the region's "big three" unionized chains: Safeway Stores, Save Mart Supermarkets and Raley's.
The way the negotiations work is that once contract agreements are reached between the union and the major chains listed above, the state's other smaller, unionized chains and independents adopt essentially the same contract.
Although the current union-retailer contact in Southern California has already expired, the UFCW and the region's "big four" chains agreed earlier this month to continue working under the existing contract until the end of this month, as they continue negotiations. At the end of March, if the union and the four grocery chains don't reach agreement on a new contract - which seems likely will be the case - the two parties could extend the period in which employees would continue to work under the terms of the old contract. Or, the UFCW and its members could decide to strike, which neither party at present wants to see happen, according to both UFCW representatives and sources we've recently talked to at the chains.
The market share-leading grocers in Modesto are union. For example, the two leading food retailers in Modesto, Save Mart Supermarkets, which is headquartered in the city of 205,000, and Raley's, which is based in nearby West Sacramento, are both unionized and UFCW affiliated.
Save Mart has seven stores in its hometown of Modesto - five Save Mart banner supermarkets, one Food Maxx discount warehouse store and a Maxx Value Foods discount supermarket. Raley's has four union markets in the city.
Both Save Mart and Raley's have union supermarkets located about a half mile from the Fresh & Easy store at 1717 Oakdale Road, where the UFCW local has set up the picket line.
Another Modesto-based chain, 8-store Cost Less Foods, is also union. Cost Less has three stores in Modesto. Safeway, which has just one supermarket in Modesto, is also union.
The seven Save Mart, four Raley's, three Cost Less stores and Safeway store represent about 55 60% of total food and grocery sales in Modesto, according to our research.
The major non-union food and grocery stores in Modesto are: Walmart (a supercenter and a discount format store), Trader Joe's (one unit), Winco Foods (one store), Grocery Outlet (one store) and the Fresh & Easy market at 1717 Oakdale Road. There are also a number of unionized and non-unionized independents in Modesto.
The reactions by shoppers to the UFCW union's pickets at the Fresno and Bakersfield stores have been a mixed bag. Some consumers have stopped shopping at the stores at the urging of the union representatives. But, based on our multi-year research and reporting, the picketing hasn't been a key deciding factor regarding why consumers have chosen or not chosen to shop at the Fresh & Easy stores in the two Central Valley regions. What we've found instead is that in making their decisions to shop at Fresh & Easy in the regions, basic criteria - service, price, selection - are at the top of the list, while the union issue is either far down in the decision-making process or not on shoppers the criteria list at all.
Save Mart Supermarkets is headquartered in Modesto and the chain's majority owner, chairman and CEO, Bob Piccinnini, lives in the city, where the grocer is one of the city's major employers and leading contributor of money and other efforts to the community - along with the fact Save Mart is the second-largest chain in Northern California and one of the "big three" the union has to negotiate with this year - there's a significant amount of pressure on UFCW 8-Golden State to keep pressure on non-union Fresh & Easy, which has three other stores planned in Modesto and next door Ceres.
Just like he said back when the Fresh & Easy stores opened in Fresno and Bakersfield, UFCW 8 Golden State President Loveall says the union local is asking the public not to shop at Fresh & Easy and to shop instead at unionized grocery stores in Modesto, such as those operated by Save Mart, Raley’s, Safeway, Food Maxx, Maxx Value, Cost Less and Rite Aid.
Further, as he said when Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy opened in Bakersfield and Fresno, Laveall has strong words about the chain, saying: "Tesco, which is Fresh & Easy’s parent company in the United Kingdom, is siphoning money out of our community. We are responding to that provocation. California has enough challenges without a foreign company 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 they can take advantage of American workers on our own turf. We will not allow that to happen."
Tesco's Fresh & Easy has created about 2,800 jobs in its 122 California stores since November 2007, including about 162 positions at the seven stores it's opened in Northern California so far. Fresh & Easy has also created additional new jobs at its corporate headquarters in El Segundo, California and at its distribution center campus in Riverside County.
Tesco currently operates 171 Fresh & Easy stores in California, Nevada and Arizona. Each Fresh & Easy store employs 20-25 workers. All the store-level employees are part-time, accept for the store manager and in some cases the store team leads (like an assistant manager). Starting pay for non management employees at the stores is $10 hour. Tesco's Fresh & Easy pays 80% of the medical insurance premiums for all store-level employees who work 20 hours or more a week. Most workers work 20-32 hours a week, depending on the store location. The retailer also offers a 401k retirement program with a company match.
As we reported yesterday, Colorado and Arizona-based Sunflower Farmers Market, which like Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is non-union, is opening a store in Modesto in October of this year. [See - March 24, 2011: Sunflower Farmers Market is Headed to Modesto as Part of Northern California Push.]
Sunflower, which operates 33 stores in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Nevada, plans to open its first store in California in May. That store will be in Roseville, near Sacramento. We expect the UFCW union to add Sunflower Farmers Market to its list of non-union stores it wants to unionize.
But so far the UFCW has had no success unionizing Walmart, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market, Target, Sprouts Farmers Market and Tesco's Fresh & Easy, all which are non-union and all which are among the fastest growing food retailers in California.
And, you can bank on this: These fast-growing non-union food retailers and the pressures they're putting on the union supermarkets is a topic at the top of the "big four" chains' discussion list in the contract negotiations currently going on between the UFCW union locals and the grocers in Southern California, as it will be later this year when contract negotiations begin in Northern California between the UFCW and the region's "big three" unionized chains.
>Read our extensive reporting and analysis on the UFCW union-Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market topic and issue at the following (click on) links - UFCW, UFCW Tesco Fresh and Easy Campaign, UFCW union, union food retailing USA.