The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, organized labor activists, supporters and employees of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market yesterday held rallies at 25 Fresh & Easy stores in California, in a show of support for employee organizing at the 171-store Tesco-owned fresh food and grocery chain.
Yesterday was the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. The rallies at the 25 Fresh & Easy stores in California were part of a national day of action in which U.S. labor unions and supporters organized a variety of different events throughout the nation. Organized labor held the day of action on the 43rd anniversary of the death of Dr. King to draw attention to trade unionism in America, particularly in light of the recent battles over collective bargaining going on in Wisconsin and Ohio between those states Governors and unionized public employees.
The UFCW and its various union locals in California deployed hundreds of activists and supporters to the 25 Fresh & Easy markets - 24 stores in Southern California and one grocery market in Northern California - yesterday afternoon, holding rallies in front of each of the stores. The pro-union activists held signs, passed out informational leaflets to shoppers and rallied the troops with speeches given by union officials local elected officials and pro-union Fresh & Easy store workers
What Juarez is referring to in the latter part of his statement above is a recent ruling by the NLRB's board on two labor relations cases filed against Tesco's Fresh & Easy last year by store employees and the UFCW. In the cases, Administrative Law Judges ruled in favor of the employees and the union and against Fresh & Easy on the majority of charges or findings brought against the grocery chain.
In the Spring Valley/San Diego store case (June 20, 2010 story linked above) the NLRB's board found on January 31, 2011 that Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market "violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by promulgating and maintaining rules prohibiting employees from talking about the union and discipline, but not other subjects, while working and by implicitly inviting employees to resign because of their protected concerted activities. The finding upheld the thrust of the decision made on June 3, 2010 by Administrative Law Judge William G. Kocol. You can view the board's January 31, 2011 decision here: (21‑CA‑38882, et al.; 356 NLRB No. 90).
The Glassell Park employees, who at one time said they had a majority of store workers in favor of joining the union, recently said they have no current plans to call for an election at the store.
The increased activity by the UFCW and the group of pro-unionization Fresh & Easy store-level workers come at about the same time United Kingdom-based Tesco is preparing to report its fiscal year 2010/11 financials, including how much the global retailer lost in the fiscal year at its Fresh & Easy USA chain of 171 stores.
We say loss because Tesco has already said it estimates reporting a loss for Fresh & Easy in the $250-$259 million range for the fiscal year, roughly the same amount it lost in the previously 2009/10 fiscal year, despite having a considerable increase in sales, mostly from new stores opened, for the 2010/11 year, which ended in February.
The UFCW rally outside the Fresh & Easy store at 1631 Highland Avenue in San Bernardino, California drew a large crowd of activits and supporters for union organizing at Tesco's Fresh & Easy.
The union issue is compounded by the fact that the current contract between the UFCW locals in Southern California and the regions unionized grocery chains, which include the four market share-leading grocer's in Southern California - Kroger's Ralphs, Safeway's Vons, Albertsons and Stater Bros - has expired.
The chains and their respective unionized workers are working on a day-to-day basis under the old contract. Either party has the right to terminate the day-to-day arrangement by giving the other party 72-hours notice.
As of today, no progress has been made in negotiations between the UFCW and Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons, which is owned by Supervalu, Inc. Stater Bros. is negotiating with the union separately, as is local chain Gelsons.
In fact, the three chains only submitted their first proposal to the UFCW on March 29. The Southern California union locals have essentially pronounced the proposal, which includes various "givebacks" involving premium-type (holidays, Sundays, ect.) wages and benefits, dead on arrival. Already some of the unions are telling employees that a strike vote may have to be made if progress isn't made in the next couple weeks, for example.
The UFCW is under pressure as part of the contract talks because the unionized chains say they are losing market share to non-union chains like Walmart, Target, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Market and Fresh & Easy, which is true. As a result, expect to see intensified organizing by the UFCW not only vis-a-vis Tesco's Fresh & Easy but also involving a couple of the other chains noted above.
One of the more aggressive UFCW union local presidents in Southern California is Connie Leyva (pictured above in front of the West Covina Fresh & Easy store and behind store employee Lisa Austin in the earlier photo), who's also the president of the California Labor Federation, the highly politically connected umbrella organization for organized labor in the Golden State.
Governor Jerry Brown is counting on the Federation's support for his budget balancing plan and on other issues, for example.
Additionally, organized labor is also a crucial supporter of Democrats in California, which hold a majority in both the State Assembly and State Senate. Assembly Speaker John Perez is a former official with the UFCW union.
Leyva attended the rally at the West Covina store yesterday and had strong words for Tesco and Fresh & Easy's senior management, saying: "When Dr. King passed away, he was standing up for striking workers in Memphis. We honor his memory today by standing with organizing workers at Fresh & Easy and saying our communities support and honor the right to organize."
For the UFCW union and the pro-union Fresh & Easy store employees however, the bottom line is that until they can hold an win an election at one of the grocer's 171 stores, the probability of becoming unionized is as close to zero as can be had. Tesco has no interest in talking with the UFCW about becoming a union shop, evidenced not only by our source information but by the fact the union has been asking its and Fresh & Easy's senior executives to do so for four years.
We don't see such an election happening at any Fresh & Easy store this year. Therefore the employees' and union's thrust will continue to be through public relations, advertising, picketing and events like the action held yesterday at the 25 stores in California. In other words, don't look for a resolution to the Fresh & Easy-union issue anytime soon.Union activists and supporters rally outside of the Fresh & Easy store in Spring Valley/San Diego yesterday.
Below are the locations of the 25 Fresh & Easy stores where the rallies took place yesterday:
Alhambra - 2121 W. Main St.
Buena Park - 7880 Valley View St.
Burbank - 1615 W. Verdugo Ave.
Compton - 2175 W. Rosecrans Ave.
Glassell Park/Eagle Rock - 4211 Eagle Rock Blvd.
Fullerton - 1207 S Euclid
Harbor City - 26640 Western Ave, Suite E
Hollywood - 7021 Hollywood Blvd.
Lakewood - 4930 Paramount Blvd.
Lakewood - 5615 Woodruff Ave.
Manhattan Beach - 1700 Rosecrans Ave.
Northridge - 19350 Nordoff St.
Orange - 1803 E Chapman
Paramount - 15727 Downey Ave.
Pico Rivera - 8921 Washington Blvd.
Rancho Cucamonga - 8956 Foothill Blvd.
Rancho Cucamonga - 12188 Foothill Blvd.
Rancho Cucamonga - 829 W Foothill, Upland
Rialto - 2015 N Riverside Ave
San Bernardino - 1631 E Highland Ave
Spring Valley/San Diego - 96655 Campo Rd.
Van Nuys - 15230 Vanowen St.
Vista - 945 E Vista Pkwy
Walnut Creek - 1821 Ygnacio Valley Rd.
West Covina - 1000 W. West Covina Pkwy
[Readers: See our extensive coverage and analysis of the union issue at Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market at (click on) the following links: Fix Fresh and Easy, Fresh and Easy Eagle Rock Blvd. store in Los Angeles, Glassell Park Fresh and Easy, UFCW, UFCW Tesco Fresh and Easy Campaign, UFCW union, union and labor issues.]