Pledge to Make Employers "Share the Fruits of Our Labors"
LANDOVER, MD. — Demanding that Giant and Safeway "share the fruits of our labors," Local 400 stewards and activists are mobilizing for the start of bargaining tomorrow on a new contract affecting 17,000 workers in the Washington, D.C., area.
With their current contract expiring on March 31, 2012, and with both companies enjoying strong profits and the top two positions in the region's grocery market, workers are ready to do whatever it takes to gain a new agreement that improves their economic standing and strengthens their health and retirement security.
Calling this "a pivotal moment for each and every one of us," Local 400 President Tom McNutt told stewards and activists, "our hard work over the past 30 years has built Giant and Safeway into the industry leaders in the Mid-Atlantic. Throughout these three decades, we sacrificed at the bargaining table to make them competitive — and we succeeded.
"They have the ability to pay," McNutt said. "We don't have the ability to make concessions. Our families are suffering. Theirs aren't. We're working harder than ever and they're making the Sheriff of Nottingham look like a Saint. So we will work 24/7 to improve our contract — to make sure they share the fruits of our labor — or they may find their fruit rotting and unsold. That's not a threat. It's a statement of fact.
"At the same time, we're going to emphasize with equal fervor our intent to find win-win solutions — to create the double bottom-line," McNutt explained. "Because at the end of the day, we're all in the same boat. We want Giant and Safeway to keep growing and thriving — and they should want to maintain the most productive, value-adding workforce in the retail food industry."
During a daylong meeting last week, stewards put the final touches on a strategic campaign to mobilize thousands of members for direct action, reach out to community allies, inform customers and the general public about the issues at stake in the negotiations, and launch a new website, http://occupygiantandsafeway.org. They also discussed the importance of members making their own personal preparations for a strike, should one become necessary.
Throughout the meeting, speakers and stewards emphasized that corporate management is in the top 1 percent, while Giant and Safeway workers are in the bottom 99 percent. For example, Safeway CEO Steve Burd made nearly $11 million last year, while Dick Boer, CEO of the Netherlands-based Ahold, which owns the Giant brand, received $2.7 million in total compensation. In addition, Giant ranks number one in the Washington, DC, area, with 36 percent market share, according to Food World's 2011 Market Report, and Safeway ranks number two, with a 22 percent share of the market.
"Between the two of them, Safeway and Giant have nearly 60 percent market share," McNutt said. "Now, that's dominance, folks. It's our hard work that makes that dominance possible — and it's our hard work that will maintain and expand their dominance in the years to come.
"So the issue isn't whether Giant and Safeway can afford to agree on a good contract that builds a new ladder to the middle class and improves your economic standing," McNutt said. "We know they can. Rather, it's whether these two companies choose their long-term self-interest over short-term greed."
McNutt made a case that there are larger issues at stake, too. "It's about whether retail jobs will be middle class jobs," he said. "It's about whether we, the 99 percent, start getting our fair share of the prosperity that right now flows only to the top 1 percent."
The first day of negotiations is January 11, 2012.
UFCW Local 400 represents 40,000 members working in the retail food, health care, retail department store, food processing, service and other industries in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.