January 26, 2007: Eight hundred Kroger Teamsters in Louisville, Ky. are still fighting for their jobs. On Jan. 13, Local 89 members voted unanimously to approve a strike if Kroger goes ahead with plans to outsource its Kentucky Distribution Center.
As we reported in the last issue of Convoy, Kroger wants to outsource the management of its Louisville facility to two third-party logistics companies: Transervice Logistics would take over the trucking operation, while Zenith Logistics would get the warehouse.
As we go to press, Kroger still has not completed the sale of the facility, which began in October. Local 89 has broken off negotiations with Kroger over the transfer and is preparing for a strike when the company completes the sale.
Kroger may attempt to complete the deal with Transervice before selling the warehouse—a move some Teamsters see as an attempt to break the union.
“It’s getting nasty,” said Mark “Gator” Horsley, a Teamster at the facility. “The company is trying to split us by selling off the truck side first. But if one goes, we’ll all go out.”
Nathan Perrett, a Kroger Teamster in Local 89, blamed the outsourcing on the incompetence of management: “Management has been running the place down and nobody is holding their feet to the fire. But when something happens, it’s the employees who take the fall.
“Everybody is sticking together. We’re ready to do what we’ve got to do to protect our jobs.”
December 2, 2006: Kroger Teamsters in Louisville are fighting for their jobs and their future in the wake of the grocery giant’s decision to turn over ownership and operations of its Kentucky Distribution Center to third party logistics companies.
December 6, 2006: Just one year into a six-year contract with Local 89, Kroger announced it would sell the warehouse to Zenith Logistics and the transportation operations to Transervice Logistics.
Zenith immediately threatened Teamsters with drastic pay and benefit cuts. The company admitted this was largely a scare tactic, but a real threat looms: job cuts. When Zenith has acquired other Kroger warehouses, management has eliminated the most desirable Teamster jobs.
Local 89 has threatened to strike as soon as Zenith takes over unless they get a signed agreement from Kroger that workers’ pay, benefits, and jobs will be protected. Local 100 in Cincinnati and Local 135 in Indianapolis agreed to honor picket lines extended to the Zenith (Kroger) warehouses there.
As we go to press, Kroger has delayed the transfer of the facility to Zenith and Transervice while negotiations continue. Progress has reportedly been made on pay and benefit issues, but the protection of jobs remains a sticking point.
Members want Kroger to preserve the routes currently serviced by Louisville Teamsters and to protect salvage, receiving, loading and porter jobs.
“What we’re afraid of is that Zenith is going to contract out these jobs to cut wages and costs,” said Nathan Perrett, a Local 89 Teamster at Kroger.
“These are the jobs that you turn to when you’ve been doing warehouse work for 20 years and we can’t let Zenith take them away,” said Mark “Gator” Horsley, a Kroger Teamster. “If those jobs are eliminated, you put people in an impossible position. Your body can’t do the backbreaking work anymore but you’ve got ten years to go to get your pension.”
Zenith is also reported to be going after changes in the attendance policy and work rules that cap overtime and guarantee Monday-to-Friday scheduling for some employees.
Kroger has admitted that its mismanagement of the facility is what has caused them to go third party.
“Teamster members shouldn’t have to pay the price for Kroger’s decision to go third party,” said Frank Halstead, a Ralphs (Kroger) warehouseman from Los Angeles who temporarily worked in Louisville when Teamsters came from other facilities to try and minimize the forced overtime on Local 89 members. “We may not be able to stop Kroger from going third party, but we’ve got to protect our jobs and industry standards.”
Kroger has gone third party in many cities, including Denver, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Detroit.
The Teamster Warehouse Division needs to help local unions win successor language that guarantees that third party logistics companies will honor the terms of Kroger’s agreements.
Louisville is in the front line of the fight and all Teamsters need to support this struggle. “We’re in a fight and we’ve got to stick together,” Horsley said. “Our ability to extend picket lines gives us real power and we’ve got to use it if it comes to that. Our future’s at stake.”
October 18, 2006: The grocery industry outsourcing trend continues with Kroger’s announcement that they will be transfering warehouse and delivery operations in Louisville to TransCorp Inc. and Zenith Logistics.
The new third-party operators quickly set the stage for their bargaining strategy by handing Local 89 members packets with job applications and info on wage and benefit cuts.
Neither Local 89 nor the Warehouse Division have taken steps to counter these scare tactics, or put in place the kind of campaign needed to protect the contract.
When members confronted Hoffa and Keegel, who were campaigning in Louisville in mid-October, the officers actually tried to blame Kroger’s outsourcing move on Ron Carey and Tom Leedham!
“That was over ten years ago, and a few contracts ago,” one member noted. “What have you done for us in the past decade?”
July 2006. Louisville Kroger management thought they had a bright idea when they forced workers from a five-day week to four ten-hour days. Their move, combined with other mistakes, only made matters worse.
Local 89 members are paying the price. Four ten-hour days quickly became five ten-hour days—and more. “Some guys have worked 60-70 days straight, ten or more hours per day,” Local 89 member Mark Horsley said. “We’ve had a guy get his foot crushed in a forklift accident and guys pulled over by the police after leaving work so tired that they can’t drive straight.”
Tensions and family problems are also on the rise. An argument between two employees recently resulted in one killing the other while at lunch at McDonalds. Divorced dads are getting hauled into court because they are not able to live up to visitation responsibilities.
One cause of the overtime problem was management foot-dragging over hiring much needed new workers. But the working conditions tend to drive new people away. About one-third of new hires actually stick with the job. The turnover means that experienced warehouse people need to spend time training, removing yet more experienced hands from the floor.
“There are serious problems overall in the industry,” Los Angeles warehouse Teamster Frank Halstead points out. “It may be better or worse in one or another location, but the drive to squeeze more work out of fewer and fewer workers is the big factor. Overtime, injuries, turnover are all problems that stem from this big push for more production.”
“From the company’s viewpoint, this was a great strategy, other than the fact that it was illegal.”
—Human Resource Expert
July 2006. The Ralphs Division of Kroger pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts in a case stemming from the 2004 lockout in Southern California. The company will pay $20 million in criminal fines and $50 million for a fund to provide back pay to locked-out workers and reimbursement to the union for strike benefits and other costs during the strike.
Ralphs and other Southern California chains locked out employees during 2004 contract bargaining over clerks in the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). When the stores couldn’t operate without experienced workers, Ralphs started bringing a select group of scabs back to work.
They gave the rehired employees false identities and social security numbers—thereby providing false information to state and federal agencies, including the IRS At the same time, they misled benefit funds and concealed the fact that they had rehired workers.
This scam helped Ralphs extend a lockout that kept tens of thousands out of work and ultimately forced on them a contract with benefit cuts that will have an impact for years to come.
Hopefully the fines and settlement will discourage these tactics in the future.
These two recent events are part of a larger and more disturbing trend in a part of the country that was once a union stronghold for grocery warehouse workers.
Shutdowns have hit other area Teamsters, including Local 445 members at Wakefern, N.Y. (400 jobs lost, shifted to a non-union facility in Pennsylvania) and Local 730 and Local 639 members at Giant in the Washington, D.C. area.
Closings are not the only threat. Teamster employers shift part of their work to nonunion facilities or lose accounts to nonunion operators. Local 118 Teamsters at Wegmans in Rochester, N.Y. learned this first hand. Their local cut a deal with the company to let them shift work to a new nonunion facility in Pennsylvania. While they lost some work, the blow was eased somewhat by attrition and work gained elsewhere.
Teamsters at Topps in Buffalo, N.Y. lost fifty jobs when Ahold sold its Wilson Farms convenience store chain and the new owners switched to non-union McLane Foodservice Distribution. “Organizing these nonunion operators has got to be a priority,” Local 264 steward Darrin Ziemba said. “There was talk at the time about going after McLane, but nothing has come of it. We need a consistent, long-term commitment to bring non-union outfits under contract. “
You would think that the loss in recent years of nearly 2,000 good Teamster jobs in the northeast would get the attention of the Hoffa administration. Not so. The IBT has no plan of action, no organizing drives, no coordinated activity aimed at protecting these jobs or expanding the union’s presence in the jurisdiction. In terms of C&S, in the late 1990s Tom Leedham secured a neutrality agreement from C&S. Rather than build on that gain, Hoffa has let it expire and has failed to organize in this all-important jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, C&S is growing by leaps and bounds. It operates in 14 states now, including areas in the south and southeast, and has projected revenue of $18 billion for 2006.
April 22, 2006: Hoffa International Rep Rick Middleton, who also heads Los Angeles Local 572, has a little explaining to do. Middleton has invested $20,000 of members’ dues money in the notorious union-buster Wal-Mart.
Many members of Local 572 who work in the grocery warehousing and distribution industry have been hurt by Wal-Mart’s predatory practices and low wages. Why is Middleton putting their money into Wal-Mart?
Ironically, three years ago Middleton was named co-chair of a Teamster anti-Wal-Mart committee.
TDU uncovered this information on Local 572’s new LM-2 financial report, which includes a list of all investments over $5,000. Local 572 has put about $200,000 of members’ money roughly equally into the stocks of ten corporations, including J P Morgan, IBM, Hewlett Packard, and…Wal-Mart!
Hoffa and his campaign supporters like Middleton recently spread the ridiculous lie that Tom Leedham is funded by Wal-Mart. The Hoffa Campaign circulated smear materials, but did not even file an election protest let alone a complaint with the Department of Labor.
Why didn’t the Hoffa Campaign turn over its evidence? Because it doesn’t exist. The Hoffa smear about Leedham and Wal-Mart is just dirty politics—a big lie with no basis in fact.
The fact that a Hoffa International Rep is signing over members’ money to Wal-Mart is indisputable. Middletown’s own financial report with his signature on it proves it. You can review it yourself by doing a search on the DOL website for Local 572’s LM-2 (or contact TDU).
If someone tries to tell you that Middleton was just buying a share so he could get the stockholders’ report or participate in stockholders actions, let them know that one share would do the trick. Wal-Mart shares are trading at $46, not $20,000!
How about it, Hoffa. Could you ask your staff to pull Teamster members’ money out of Wal-Mart?
The data for this article come from forms filed with the Department of Labor. You can view them on the DOL website or call TDU for a copy.
March 2006: New York City Teamsters rallied on the steps of City Hall on March 5 to protest comments by the head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) calling Teamster warehouse workers “the lowest rung workers” whose jobs should be scrapped. Local 805 members have been fighting the city’s EDC, which is trying to shut down the last working port in Brooklyn. Teamster Local 807 jobs are also on the chopping block. Carrying signs that said, “Save my job,” and “We are NOT low-rung workers,” Teamsters rallied on the steps of City Hall along with supporters from other locals and pro-labor politicians. Local 805 President Sandy Pope told the rally, “This city is not run by Wall Street or the city bureaucrats. It is run by the people who move the goods.” Pope called on the mayor to save the port jobs and make a “public commitment to respect the workers of this city.”
Politics of Division
The day before the rally, Local 805 members received a pre-recorded message from the Teamster General President. But Hoffa wasn’t calling members to turn them out for the rally. Instead, Hoffa called to attack Sandy Pope. Hoffa has poured thousands of dollars into the Local 805 delegate election to try to defeat Pope, a candidate for International Vice President. But you would think the General President could put politics aside for one day while members are fighting for their jobs. “The day before we’re uniting at City Hall to save Teamster jobs, including mine, President Hoffa was phoning us to try to divide our local. And he’s the head of the ‘Unity Slate?’ said shop steward Michael Ambrose. “To me, unity is about bringing workers together to win a better future for ourselves. That’s what Sandy Pope has done for us at American Warehousing.” In January, a mobilization by Teamster members forced the Port Authority to allow a blockaded ship to dock at the port so it could be unloaded by Teamsters. That victory has saved their jobs for now. The fight to preserve Teamster port jobs continues. It would be nice if Hoffa would join it.
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You see how towns brace and prepare to battle the onslaught of the huge greed machine Wal-Mart, but then find their own state and federal taxes are used against them.
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October 5, 2005: The negotiations covering approximately 8,000 members in the Southern California grocery industry have concluded. The five-year agreement contains wage increases of 50 cents, 45 cents, 50 cents, 45 cents and 50 cent; pension contribution increases of 10 cents, 0, 10 cents, 0 and 10 cents: and maintenance of benefits over the life of the agreement.
Even though members overwhelmingly ratified the offer, many were disappointed by the paltry pension increases and by the leadership’s inability to negotiate improvements in other areas.
Huge issues face workers in the grocery industry: Unreasonable production standards, harsh attendance policies, disregard for seniority and parity.
“I work for the largest company and we have the worst contract. While the industry standard is 7 to 1 for part-time ratios we have a 2 to 1 ratio. We make 33 cents less an hour than the average for the industry. We don’t have Sunday Premium, averaged vacation pay or the overtime optional provision”, says Frank Halstead, member of Local 572 employed by Ralphs Grocery (Kroger).
With the big employers still recovering from the UFCW strike/lockout, the opportunity existed to resolve some of these issues. Instead of patting themselves on the back and saying “It’s the best contract in the Southern California grocery industry ever; the biggest and the largest that’s ever been bargained” as Paul Kenny, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 630 and Co-Chairman of the negotiating committee put it, our leaders should have used the leverage we had to make the improvements members have requested for years. The Chairman, J.C. 42 President Jim Santangelo said “we’re very happy with this deal, because the employers were generous.” But this “generosity” is going to result in less buying power, lower pensions and fighting the same old issues for five years.