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UFCW 588: Elections and Turmoil

Written by Bill Pearson Sunday, 05 February 2006

Activist and retired UFCW President, Bill Pearson, lays out some of the daunting challenges facing UFCW members as they attempt to take back control of Local 588 and their future.

Which Side Are You On?

This has been a tough topic to tackle. Many of you know I have been helping members of UFCW Local 588 prepare for the coming elections this year.

The challenge has been both a mental quagmire and a moral abyss. In other words, I'm struggling with how to be as honest and objective as I know I should be. Anything I say will be repeated, printed and posted. The fact is, many of the coming comments are speculation, though certainly conjecture based on what has been a sordid past with dealings that were less than admirable or honorable.

My decision to post with nothing more than blunt and candid thoughts was ramped up when I was told both the National Labour Relations Board and United States Department of Labor were following this site and the Groceryworkers site. I also know for a fact there are writers and reporters following these websites that have an interest in what is happening and how the Local union handles the events over the course of the next year.

My goals are simple. I want to try and contribute to the group who have gone out on a limb and who are trying to make a difference for the rest of the members of Local 588. Clearly, given the events of the last three months there are reasons for concern. Consider the following:

  • Early in November Safeway fired Presidential candidate Doug Slaydon on what appears to be bullshit trumped up charges. The multiple warning letters Doug has are damning to the company and their lies are apparent. Unfortunately UFCW Local 588 has failed to get Doug reinstated without an arbitration, which by the way has yet to be scheduled. There is reason to believe this is a ploy to insure Doug does not qualify under the International constitution which mandates a candidate be in good standing for at least one year prior to the election.
  • UFCW 588 recently announced the closing of Ralph's Northern California stores. This has the potential to throw untold numbers of members into the streets and cause even more hardship, bickering and distrust.
  • The sale of the Albertson's stores may be the harshest cut of all. Former Republican vice president Dan Quail is part of the team leading the hedge fund buying the stores out West. They have yet to announce their plans, but the language of the grocery contract is suspect at best, and there is genuine concern on my part some of Doug's leadership team may be targeted and not hired by the new ownership. This would be a potential violation of the contract, as these members would be singled out for their union activities.

Any one of these items alone is daunting, but the cumulative total could be devastating to members. I have been through sales and closings similar to this and there are seldom outcomes that are attractive. Add to the mix the magnificent effort by the Slaydon team and the pressure they have been bringing to Local 588 and you can see why there is an amount of suspicion as to how the union leadership will respond.

There is some historical reference to help guide us. I have been told there are former Local 588 members who over the years tried to mount a reform slate against the recently retired Jack Loveall. The stories of how those members were treated are terrifying and would make a great article for any writer who wants to take the time to research it. We have names and phone numbers of former candidates and would be happy to pass them on to the right people for interview. Contact us at http://www.groceryworker.org

One would think in a time of need such as this, the first place to turn would be the UFCW International Union. But wait, that's what Local 588 members did last year when they were challenging the Local's vote on a new contract. Seems UFCW International President Joe Hansen resolved the issue by forwarding their complaint to Local 588 for them to deal with.

That should come as no surprise; it is how they operate. They love to tout Local union autonomy when it suits them; and they always seem ready to stand by the elected officers of the Local. When I ran against the seated president at Local 789 they refused to act on my concerns and some of the international staff helped my opponent raise a large war chest by raising monies around the United States from other Local union officers and at UFCW sponsored events.

Given the history and the fact the international isn't going to lend a hand, where should the beleaguered members turn? I have several suggestions, but the first is within. There is no better time than right now for Local 588 members to start holding elected officers accountable. The ridiculous salaries (and especially the raises they have recently given themselves) make them prime targets for members to start asking/demanding answers. Now is not the time for members to sit back on their hands and patiently wait and hope things work out alright.

Beyond that, the Internet is the most powerful tool in workers hands today. For the first time in history workers have the capacity to reach anyone and everyone. Injustice no longer has to be a secret they bear alone. They have the reach and the voice to tell their stories to those we already know are interested. They also have those of us who have been there and done that to help keep them moving forward. The answers/solutions are not beyond their reach.

Workers are at a turning point. Their future is in jeopardy and it is clear the business unionists are not going to be able to save them and certainly not without members taking back their unions. Sadly, the boys in power are more concerned about preserving that control (and their own necks and great paying jobs) than the members. The business union model is such that the saving the organization and the leadership is the first order of business.

Tom Geoghegan's book - Which Side Are You On, Trying To Be For Labor When It's Flat On Its Back - is a must read for any members interested in taking back their union. Running for union office has always been an uphill battle, but these days with the huge salaries the leadership is making, it is clear that some elected leaders will go to any length to see their opponent defeated and better yet, unable to run.

These two paragraphs summarize virtually everything about reformers; why we exist and what our calling is:

"The best part of being a labor lawyer", writes Geoghegan, "is siding with the rebels" against the stale union bureaucrats who do not enforce contracts, who don't fight sackings, who bungle grievances, who do not return phone calls from members but who do continue to draw their salaries of a quarter of a million dollars or more.

Geoghegan's commitment to the labor movement has a jaded air of resignation about it and the predominant tone of his book is one of elegiac sadness for a once-great union movement. But for all that, Geoghegan hangs in there, knowing that democratic trade unions are vital to a society that answers to the community of common men and women, workers and their families, and not to the market and its selfish shareholder desires. The labor movement and its "subversive idea of solidarity" are essential to counter non-union US and its destructive philosophy of individualism, says Geoghegan.

There's nothing more to say, other than to ask - which side are you on?

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