Grocery workers claiming victory in two legal faceoffs
An image from the AlwaysHereForColorado.com website.
Last week, King Soopers asked a federal court judge to stop United Food and Commercial Workers International Local No. 7 representatives from talking to staffers while they're on the job -- a tactic referred to in press accounts as "blitzing." But clever terminology aside, it's the UFCW, not the grocery chain, that's claiming a court victory on the subject. A union press release issued on June 23 declares that "a federal judge today upheld the legal and contractural obligations of union representatives to keep workers informed about the contents of the corporation's contract proposal, and agreed that they can talk to workers on the floor." In addition, the union is ballyhooing a ruling that issues related to a pension plan should be dealt with in arbitration.
These are minor skirmishes in the overall scheme of things, but they matter from a day-to-day PR perspective, as does the latest earnings report for Kroger Co., King Soopers' owner. Turns out Kroger just registered a 13 percent profit increase -- good news overall, but poor timing when it comes to ongoing negotiations over a contract that union employees overwhelmingly rejected earlier this month.
Read UFCW's spin on the aforementioned court rulings by clicking "Continue."
Judge Upholds Right of Union Representatives to Inform Workers About Their Contract
23 June 2009
A federal judge today upheld the legal and contractural obligations of union representatives to keep workers informed about the contents of the corporation's contract proposal, and agreed that they can talk to workers on the floor.
"We're just trying to let people know about what the corporation's proposal means for their lives," said Melissa McCollister, one of the union representatives. "The contract says we have a right to do that, and so does federal law. Workers have a right to know that even as the corporation is making record profits, the corporation wants to cut their pension, freeze their wages, and pay less into their health care plan."
Front Range King Soopers workers voted by more than 90% last week to reject the concessions in the corporation's current offer, and request the corporation go back to the bargaining table.
Judge Gives Workers Their Day in Court, Orders Pension Issue to Arbitration
23 June 2009
This afternoon, a federal judge agreed that grocery workers deserve their day in court when it comes to their pension plan. The judge agreed with the unions' request to go to arbitration to determine if the corporation should be forced to agree to sign off on 'green', or fully-funded status, of the pension plan for another year by the June 30 deadline. The union's pension trustees have already agreed to the year-long time out - which would not cost the corporation a penny - but the corporation refuses to meet the workers halfway and is instead insisting on hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension cuts for current workers.
According to 29-year Safeway worker Arlys Carlson, "Especially given the corporations' most recent profit reports, there's no need to rush in to pension cuts if we don't have to. If the corporation has its way, I stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over my retirement. We should give the economy time to heal, and the corporation should reward their workers with the secure retirement they've earned."
The shortfall is the corporations' own fault, thanks to a structural problem created by the corporations' paying less into the pension fund for workers hired after May, 2005. The corporation's proposal to cut pensions could cost the average worker up to $400,000 in benefits, according to an analysis done by a neutral consultant. For example, a worker who is now age 45 with 15 years of service would see a more than 30% reduction in his or her overall pension benefits if they retire at 62, or a total of $129,000 in lost pension over a lifetime.
None of this would be necessary if the corporation would agree to a one-year time out on the pension fund as allowed under federal law. Under the Worker Retiree and Employer Relief Act of 2008, trustees of a pension plans -- both the union and the companies -- have the option of extending their green status, or adequately funded status, for one year.
Because the corporation would not agree to the one-year time-out, the union had filed an injunction in federal court requesting that the issue go to arbitration. The arbitration should be completed by the June 30 deadline for extending the pension status.