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On the picket line

March 16, 2007 | Pages 14 and 15

Stop & Shop
Support the Immokalee workers

Stop & Shop
By Wayne Standley

THE FIVE locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, representing 43,000 Stop & Shop workers in southern New England, voted to accept a new three-year contract March 11.

This came after three months of negotiations and an overwhelming vote by the workers to authorize a strike last month. Immediately after the agreement, Stop & Shop issued a press statement saying it believes "our new contracts meet our goal."

In 2004, the union accepted a contract containing concessions in benefits on health care for part-time workers. This time, the company wanted even more, and was prepared to try to bust the union if it didn't get what it wanted.

In preparation for a strike, the company opened several scab hiring halls. Full-page newspaper ads were also used to try to convince customers to continue to shop there in event of a strike.

But public support was with the workers. A survey on the Web site of local radio station WHAI showed more than 80 percent would not cross a picket line.

The workforce at Stop & Shop is increasingly divided among full-time workers, part-timers who would like to be full-time, and a large group of part-timers who see no future in working for the company, as promotion opportunities are limited. The company increasingly has shifted towards this last group of workers--who now make up 80 percent of the company's workforce--because they receive few benefits.

Unfortunately, UFCW has been willing to trade concessions for one group of workers in order to hold onto benefits for another.

This strategy of trade-offs in benefits seems to have continued with the current contract. Full-time workers will now have to pay a portion of their health care premiums, with the largest burden falling on those with families.

For new part-time workers, the waiting period for health care benefits has been reduced from the ridiculous two years to a slightly less ridiculous one year. However, all current part-time workers must still wait two years to qualify for company health coverage.

This effectively will deny most part-timers any health care coverage at all, since the annual turnover rate among part-timers is nearly 100 percent. New pay raises, calculated on an hourly basis, are also lower for part-timers.

Such divisions among Stop & Shop's workforce only weakens the ability to build a united fight for decent wages and benefits--at Stop & Shop and throughout the entire retail food industry.

The next struggle is already underway in Southern California, where the UFCW union members are negotiating to win back benefits lost in their last contract. The lessons of New England Stop & Shop workers will be critical to a victory there.

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Support the Immokalee workers
By Nadia Sol Ireri Unzueta Carrasco and Orlando Sepúlveda

AS PART of the Campaign for Fair Food, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is preparing for major mobilizations for farmworker justice in Chicago in April. In mid-February, 70 young activists from around the Midwest attended a conference to discuss strategies to build the April mobilization.

Nearly two years after a successful campaign forced Taco Bell to increase the price it pays for the tomatoes it uses in its restaurants, and pass on the difference to the tomato pickers, the CIW is now after fast-food giant McDonald's.

McDonald's is behind the creation of Socially Accountable Farm Employers, which is supposed to monitor industry employers but has been denounced by consumer, human rights and labor organizations for covering up abuses in the fields. The conditions faced by tomato pickers, who are mostly immigrant workers, amount to modern-day slavery.

Cruz Salucio, who has worked two years in the field, told conference attendees how 12 workers had to share a small trailer. "Then," he said, "they take $70 for that housing arrangement."

Part of the conference was dedicated to discussing solidarity, particularly with the workers in Immokalee, Fla. Immokalee workers spoke about the links between free trade and globalization and their exploitation.

"In Oaxaca, my family had a coffee farm," said Norberto Jiménez, "but with the NAFTA the price of the coffee plummeted, and then the farm couldn't sustain us any more. So I decided to come here. "But I had to try more than once because the migra stopped me the first time.

In the afternoon, 40 activists staged a protest at a local McDonald's, chanting "Down, down with exploitation! Up, up with a fair food nation!"

The CIW is planning a rally outside McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., for April 13 and a "Carnival and Parade for Fair Food, Real Rights, and Dignity" for April 14 in downtown Chicago.

To contact the CIW for more information about the campaign, write [email protected].

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