Grocery Workers United Fights for Democracy and Better Leadership
The group Grocery Workers United for a Democratic Union was formed in 2003 by two members of UFCW Local 588, a 23,000-member local in north and central California. Both members were long-time friends and ex-shop stewards concerned about the future of their union. Two years later, the GWU has more than 10 grocery workers in its core group, mostly from Albertsons or Safeway stores in the area.
The push to get the group started came first from connections we made online, but really took off after the southern California grocery strike and lockout in 2003.
I had met UFCW 789 President Bill Pearson online in 2003 after finding the Youareworthmore.org website. Bill directed us to the Members for Democracy (ufcw.net, now uncharted.ca) and Slaveway.org (now defunct) websites. We found we were able to communicate with other UFCW rank and filers in the U.S. and Canada and get accurate information about our union’s business.
THE GROCERY STRIKE
When the southern California grocery strike broke out, a number of Local 588 members started asking our union leaders how we could support our brothers and sisters to our south.
Some of us decided to go down to the picket lines as a group, to bring donations and show support by walking the picket lines. We were angered and confused when Local 588 leaders discouraged us from doing so. We went anyway.
We decided then that something was not right with the way the UFCW was handling both the strike and all the master grocery contracts that were expiring across the country. Knowing that our own contract negotiations were right around the corner we decided to take action to try and inform other members of local 588 what was ahead for them.
CONNECTING WITH LABOR NOTES
Just weeks after the grocery chains had starved their workers into accepting the worst contract in their history, Labor Notes flew one of its staff, Renuka Uthappa, to Oakland to hold a workshop to help northern Californian UFCW members organize and prepare for their upcoming contract. I attended this workshop and came back with lots of literature and organizing ideas.
We used what we had learned from Labor Notes to start our first rank-and-file meeting. Local 588 was in its early stages of negotiations by then and was being completely silent with its members--no meetings, no communication.
We had a pretty good turn out at the first meeting, enough so that at our second meeting Local 588 President Jack Loveall sent four of his business agents to harass our speaker and try and disrupt our meeting.
During our negotiations, Labor Notes sent staff organizer Marsha Niemeijer from New York to meet with members. As the group began to grow, Labor Notes organized conference calls to help educate and keep our group on the right track.
Labor Notes helped our group get its web site set up. To this day Labor Notes is very active in advising members of Local 588.
RUNNING FOR OFFICE
Shortly after the members of Local 588 were delivered their concessionary contract by the Loveall leadership, a Safeway meat clerk named Doug Slaydon decided he had had enough of a union leadership that didn’t put it’s members first. Doug started to campaign for president of Local 588.
Doug’s network and Grocery Workers United combined forces around the campaign. With our combined networks we expanded our efforts to reach a larger portion of Local 588's sprawling geographical area.
Members of our group--which we are now calling 588 Members for a Democratic Union--organized a campaign blitz of about 20 stores in the Modesto area. Wearing our "Troublemakers’ Union" T-shirts, we canvassed stores with leaflets and newsletters and got 35 contact survey cards filled out by members. The day was a huge success for the group. The following day Doug was fired from his job at Safeway.
Our main focus now is to continue to build support and raise funds for the campaign—and to win Doug’s job back!
We look forward to sending someone from our group to the Labor Notes Conference to network with other UFCW rank and filers and learn more of the organizing tactics and skills.