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UFCW: A study on how they got to where they are today.

Written by Bill Pearson Sunday, 15 April 2007

There are reasons, solid explanations for where we are, why we end up where we do. Absolutely fate plays a part, luck invariably is also a factor. The reality is, much of it is directly related to what we have done and how we have done it. That is true for organizations as well as people.

The ufcw international is a classic study in how organizations work... or don't in some cases. Let's be blunt, they have a large structure with enormous responsibilities. With a yearly budget of over 200 million dollars, they have enormous resources to work with.

I have long held they have some of the most skilled people in all of labor. Their education department has been solid (if they hadn't been controlled on what they taught). David Blitzstein in benefits was a one man gang (too bad more local union leaders weren't hearing what he was saying). Their research department was as good as any. My old friend (hope this doesn't hurt you Phil) at the Wilson Center Phil Comstock was perhaps the smartest, toughest sob that walked the face of the earth. Greg Denier could crank it out with the best of them (too bad it was so much spin).

Individually they were strong. Hell, collectively they had enormous potential as well. In the coming days I will give you a glimpse of their brilliance, but that and a dollar won't get you a cup of coffee in Washington DC these days.

If we are going to be honest in assessing where they are, we need look back from whence they came. Interestingly, there are some well traveled paths to follow. In Joe Hansen's own words in the glitzy 2005 Securing The Future piece he says it all with this header: Collective Bargaining Strategy... Accountability Considerations. For far too long there has been no accountability, no one to accept the mantel of responsibility for the outcomes they have produced.

From the final day of the founding convention between the clerks and the cutters, as Bill Wynn announced to the world, We will be a force to be reckoned with they have been long on rhetoric. They have produced volumes of quality hype and hyperbole.

Perhaps none has been better done and more consistently on message than the International Collective Bargaining Policy. It is a fascinating journey down memory lane for me. The names of those attached to its earliest release in 1985 were some of the best and brightest within the ufcw. More significant than the names producing it was the quality of the recommendations. It's content was beyond compare.

It should have been good, it took two years to put together. In Wynn's cover letter, he says this:

Regarding the paragraph on favored nations clauses, we assume that everyone will understand that pursuit of labor parity means that we will seek to reduce competitive inequities among organized operations by raising standards to the highest levels, not retreating to the weakest contract.

Wow, great start and a foundation that should have set the course for the future. The preface gets better; in it Wynn speaks of the history and accomplishments through the sixties and seventies; and the dismal fall from grace in the first half of the eighties. These insightful remarks explains why they put this paper together: During the last few years, criticism, constructive and otherwise, of the ufcw collective bargaining process and the results it produced, developed and increased. While progress, even disorderly progress, has few detractors, retreat, no matter how well executed, has a myriad of critics.

Clearly, the boys did get it, even back then. If they produced results, even minimally, they could get by. If however they got their ass kicked, there would be those who would complain, speak out. Damn, if only they had taken this position paper more seriously.

In the document from 1985 (and that still exists today, as you will see), we will find similarities.

The core of its content is embodied in two parts. The policies were/are items that could not be waffled on; they were the absolutes. The goals were the hopes and dreams of what members wanted, would like to see in their agreements.


  • Unfortunately, this was their first item; hopefully not the most important. Accretion or after-acquired store clauses.
  • Union security provisions.
  • Favored nations clauses shall be vigorously rejected.
  • Jointly administered employee benefit plans shall be maintained and strengthened to ensure the union's day to day role in guaranteeing the best possible benefits for our members.

GOALS: (summarized)

  • The best wages hours and working conditions.
  • Single area-wide, multi-local, multi-employer agreements. Locals in the same area shall pursue coordinated bargaining and common expiration dates.
  • Concessions must be addressed in an aggressive, but informed manner.
  • Multi-tiered wages and benefits shall be opposed for their fundamental unfairness, their undemocratic nature, their inherent divisiveness and because they defer, rather than address, contractual problems.
  • Union principles shall be protected.
  • The union shall pursue maximum full time employment.
  • A minimum guarantee of 20 hours per week.
  • Progressions based on date of hire not hours of work.
  • The primary retirement benefit shall be defined benefit plans.
  • The union shall pursue pension reciprocity.
  • Five year vesting ( a goal that was not reached for many plans until the federal government forced it on them in 1998).
  • Work preservation clauses.
  • Paid time off for union stewards.

Aggressive goals and policies for sure. Perhaps best of all was the explanation of how it would work as defined in the Collective Bargaining Process statement. This paragraph sums it all up: To this end, the International Union, as well as the local have a role in educating the rank and file, stewards, representatives and officers, on a continuing basis in a manner that will develop an informed, militant and cohesive movement.

That letter was sent to local unions and regional directors on March 4, 1985. It was reinforced again in the Leadership Update in September of 1988. It was rewritten in similar fashion and adopted and mailed again to officers in March of 2001. In June of 2005, Joe Hansen restated it in the aforementioned Securing the Future: Strategies and Directives for Change. Still yet again, on Feb 17, 2006 a letter was mailed to all locals from Pat O'Neill with a report on Bargaining For The Future.

Virtually every step of the way, we have seen these original policies and goals embraced and hung out as the standard for all locals to follow. It begs the questions: What the hell happened? How did we fall so fast, so far? How did an organization with such a terrific blueprint for change act in such a disconnected manner? Why were so many allowed vary so much?

There are answers, and in this thread we will explore some of them. There are folks who have since retired who helped craft these guidelines, and who willfully and perhaps intentionally ignored and even may have subverted them. Yet when they left the ufcw they were rewarded with unimaginable perks, bonuses and gifts beyond compare.

Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.

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