Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pro-Union Workers' Group and UFCW Union Speak Out On Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's $300 Million-Plus Loss

The billboard above, at the 405-Freeway (southbound near Century Boulevard) in Southern California, is part of the UFCW's campaign to unionize Fresh & Easy.

A group of store-level workers who've banned together to organize fellow employees and unionize Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market reacted this morning to Tesco's report yesterday that the United Kingdom-based retailer lost a whopping $307 million at its El Segundo, California-based fresh food and grocery chain in its 2010/11 fiscal year, whch ended February 26, 2011.

The Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market employee group, led primarily by workers at the Tesco-owned chain's store on Eagle Rock Boulevard in Los Angeles' Glassell Park neighborhood, said this morning in a statement released by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union that, as employees, they're "very concerned" over the $300 million-plus in losses Fresh & Easy sustained in Tesco's 2010/11 fiscal year,

As we reported yesterday, Tesco's Fresh & Easy lost about $307 million, on sales of about $818 million, in its 2010/11 fiscal year, which ended on February 26, 2011. (Note: You will see slightly different loss numbers reported in the millions, depending on the publication doing so. That's because Tesco reports its financial numbers in British pounds. Therefore, the numbers can vary slightly depending on conversion rate use and timing.)

The employee group also takes Fresh & Easy's continued poor performance directly to the corner office in El Segundo, saying: "Tesco Director and Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Chief Executive Officer Tim Mason has refused to work with union and community groups to improve Fresh & Easy stores and make them more successful in their communities. Tesco's Fresh & Easy stores have suffered losses every year since the U.S. grocery chain was launched in 2007, and have never posted a profit in the U.S."

"Even after four years of losses for Fresh & Easy stores, Tesco paid Tim Mason around $7 million last year," said worker Lisa Austin. “We’re struggling to survive and make our stores a success on minimal wages and unaffordable health care, but he’s making millions while Fresh & Easy fails. It doesn’t make any sense." [Click here to read a series of stories about Mason's compensation. At the linked page you can click on the older posts/newer posts links at the bottom for additional stories on the subject.]

Austin, who's one of the leaders of the store-level employee group working with the UFCW to organize Fresh & Easy's workers, recently spoke at an April 5, 2011 rally to unionize Fresh & Easy, which we reported on in detail here: UFCW Union, Activists and Employees Hold Pro-Union Rallies at 25 Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Stores in California.

In the joint Fresh & Easy worker-UFCW statement this morning, the union's spokesman, Evan Yates, had strong words for Tesco and its 172-store Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain, saying "the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), community groups, politicians and Fresh & Easy workers have tried to work with Tesco to make Fresh & Easy a success since the company announced its entry into the U.S. grocery market. To date, Tesco has maintained its anti-union, anti-worker and anti-community stance and launched its chain of Fresh & Easy markets in 2007 as non-union stores."

Tesco's position, which it's held since the UFCW first began organizing Fresh & Easy employees in 2007, is that if enough store-level workers want to unionize, they need to hold an election supervised by the National Labor Relations board (NLRB), per current U.S. labor law.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy has said if such an election were called. it would follow the law in carrying out its part of the process.

However, leaders of the employee pro-unionization group who work at the Glassell park neighborhood Fresh & Easy market in Los Angeles said on April 5 they haven't held an election at the store because they're concerned Tesco and Fresh & Easy might not play fair. However, a leader of the group also said on April 5 that they aren't sure if they currently have a majority of votes to go union at the Los Angeles store.

Members of the employee group are working with the UFCW on its "Fix Fresh & Easy" campaign, which is designed to put pressure on Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's CEO, Tim Mason, who's also Tesco's deputy CEO, and Tesco CEO Philip Clarke, in hope they'll have company representatives sit down with the employees and union representatives to discuss unionizing Fresh & Easy.

The UFCW has been trying  to arrange a formal sit-down with Tesco executives and CEO Tim Mason regarding Fresh & Easy for over three years. Such a meeting hasn't yet happened - and Tesco has made it fairly clear such a meeting won't be coming anytime soon.

Tesco's stores in the United Kingdom, where it's the leading food and grocery retailer, are unionized, as are many of its other divisions in Europe and Asia.

Another Fresh & Easy store worker, Shannon Harding, who works at the Spring Valley store in San Diego, summed up in the statement issued this morning what the workers group says it essentially wants: "Nobody expects to get rich working at a grocery store." But we still deserve decent pay, decent benefits and a real voice in turning this company around. Without those things, Fresh & Easy will never be a success."

Tesco's Fresh & Easy pays store- level workers a starting wage of $10 hour. Other store-level employees, called team leaders (there are generally two-to-four such employees per-store) receive a starting wage of $13 an hour. Assistant managers (one per-store; and not at all stores), which in addition to team leaders are management assistants employed at some of the Fresh & Easy stores, make $15 hour.

There are 20-25 workers per Fresh & Easy store. All of the employees work part-time (20 -to- about 32 hours week), except for the team leaders (some are part-time though), assistant managers and store managers, who are paid a salary.

Unlike unionized grocery store workers at chains like Safeway Stores, Kroger, Albertsons and others, who's pay raise schedule is determined by a multi-year contract agreement between the grocers, the UFCW union and its member-grocery clerks, hourly pay increases, and the amounts of any such increases, for store-level workers at Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market are up to the company, as is the case at all non-union food and grocery retailers, like Walmart, Target, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's and others.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market offers all store-level employees a medical insurance plan in which its pays 70% -to- 80% of the premium cost. The chain also offers workers a 401k plan with an employer contribution.

Union grocery chain workers in California make different hourly wages depending on their job descriptions in the stores. However, on average, a journey-level (about one year's full time experience) union chain grocery clerk - checks groceries, stock shelves, ect. - makes about $19 hour, and has a very strong employer-union health plan, which includes medical, dental and vision coverage. The workers contribute a portion of the monthly premium costs for the health plan.

Union grocery clerks also get a defined benefit pension depending on years of service, such as 10, 20, 30 years. The unionized chains contribute a significant portion of workers' pension money as part of the employee-retailer union contract agreement, along with a number of other types of benefits. They also pay monthly union dues to the UFCW.

Shannon Harding and the UFCW filed a case against Fresh & Easy with the NLRB in 2010. In June 2010 Administrative Law Judge William Kocol ruled in favor of Harding and the union and against Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market on the majority of complaints brought in the case. [See - June 20, 2010: NLRB Judge Rules Against Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in Spring Valley CA Store Labor Law Violation Case.

On January 31, 2011, members of the NLRB's board voted to uphold the judge's decision in favor of Harding and the UFCW on the key complaints in the case. (See here.) According to the NLRB the case remains open, meaning a full and final decision is pending.

The Fresh & Easy employee group and the UFCW union have been ratcheting-up their efforts to organize store-level workers at the grocery chain, along with attempting to put greater pressure on Tesco and Fresh & Easy via the "Fix Fresh & Easy" public relations and advertising campaign.

So far the increased organizing, which also now includes efforts by UFCW locals in Northern California where Tesco has thus far opened eight Fresh & Easy markets and is set to open three new stores on April 27, hasn't produced the desired meeting - and based on our information is unlikely to do so anytime in the near future.

However, in light of yesterday's $300 million loss on about $818 million in annual sales - a loss that's about 40% of Fresh & Easy's annual revenues - this increased pressure, particularly from employees of the grocery chain, with the support of the union, comes at a bad time for Tesco CEO Philip Clarke, who inherited Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's problems when he took over as CEO from Terry Leahy, who's brainchild Fresh & Easy is.

Clarke is on the record as saying Tesco will break-even with its U.S. small-format, convenience-oriented Fresh & Easy chain by the end of its 2012/13 fiscal year, which is just 22 months from now, which as we said in this story - April 19, 2011: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Posts Biggest One-Year Loss Yet - $307 Million Loss on Sales of $818 Million (and have been saying for some time) - is a tall order.

Reader Resource

Readers: See our extensive three plus-year coverage and analysis of the union issue at Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market at (click on) the following links: , , , , , , .]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a frequent shopper at Fresh n Easy, I applaud you for your NON-UNION efforts. Unions had their time and are no longer needed. They corrupt as our government, or worst. (Join the union or we'll break your legs, kinda folks, old mafia ways)self indulged, yet wanting workers to continue to pay their wages...unions organizers, change your career, we have the California Labor Commission watching our backs. ve