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Union Employers Must Speak Up

Written by John Briley Tuesday, 17 November 2009

By John Briley November 17, 2009

Over the past several months, many of us have been following Wal-Mart, as it bullies and buys its way into Salinas while pursuing its quest for two Supercenters. Unfortunately, during this time, our union retail food and drug store employers have remained on the sidelines in virtual silence.

I am a retiree with more than 38 years with the United Food Commercial Workers Union. Prior to my retirement on May 1, 2007, I was the president of UFCW Local 839 for more than 17 years and one of seven UFCW Bay Area unions who effectuated a merger, with membership approval, to create UFCW Local 5 effective Jan. 1, 2007.

In an effort to identify some of our Union Retail Food and Drug Store Employers within Local 5's jurisdiction, especially in Salinas, the following companies are signatory to a union contract with UFCW Local 5: Foods Co, Nob Hill Foods, Safeway Stores, Save Mart Supermarkets, including FoodMaxx, Super Maxx, and Rite-Aid drug stores.

Clearly, the UFCW has serious concerns whenever a Wal-Mart Supercenter opens within any of our jurisdictions. The mere presence of a Supercenter and its ability to provide full grocery and general merchandise departments under one roof have a devastating impact on our union members.

Our concerns are predicated on the loss of business at our stores, resulting in the possibility of layoffs, reduction in hours and store closures, ultimately affecting Local 5 members and their families working throughout Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties.

So why have our union employers been so silent? With so much at stake and so much at risk, their silence has been disturbing and disappointing, if not downright suspicious.

Part of my suspicion is a result of having experienced firsthand during numerous negotiation sessions over the years with these same employers their relentless whining about Wal-Mart Supercenters.

Still fresh in my mind is how union employers would raise concerns over what a severe impact a Supercenter would have on their businesses, while threatening to pursue concessions from our members.

Assuming Wal-Mart is successful in opening a Supercenter in Salinas, our union employers' battle cry for our next round of negotiations will be demanding concessions from UFCW Local 5 members.

I can hear the canned speeches now: "Due to the 'competitive disadvantage' of having a Supercenter operating in Salinas and the impact Supercenter(s) have had on our businesses, we have no other alternative than to seek concessions."

It is unfortunate in today's working environment, with all the expectations placed on employees from their employers, such as their loyalty, that in this instance, our employers had a perfect opportunity to step forward and demonstrate their loyalty to their employees by pursuing a more aggressive and pro-active campaign against Wal-Mart's Supercenter expansion in Salinas.

John Briley lives in Salinas.

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