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Pledge drive
Contra Costa Times ^ | 12/16/4 | James Temple

Posted on 12/16/2004 10:24:25 AM PST by SmithL

Grocery unions are escalating their efforts to collect customer pledges to boycott Safeway if ongoing contract talks break down, even as legal squabbles over the tactic proceed behind the scenes.

Hundreds of members from 50 state labor and community groups this afternoon will solicit customer support at 54 Safeway stores in 25 cities across the Bay Area, according to the leaders of regional United Food and Commercial Workers locals. It's a significant step up from a similar four-city action held a month ago.

The legal battle and swelling boycott campaign together speak of increasing tensions at the bargaining table, where supermarkets Safeway Inc., Albertsons Inc. and local Kroger Co. chains recently submitted proposals that would shift some health care and benefit costs onto employees and reduce wages for new hires. Similar demands led to a 41/2-month strike in Southern California that was settled earlier this year and to the apparent breakdown in Sacramento area talks this week.

The chains argue they must cut costs to survive the growth of nonunion grocers such as Wal-Mart Supercenters, while the unions contend the cuts will plunge their members into poverty and push health care costs onto taxpayers. But the ultimate value of the boycott campaign, and its related legal challenges, in achieving either party's bargaining goals is unclear.

The unions claim to have collected 75,000 boycott signatures already and are pushing for more. They hope the action will pressure the supermarkets into easing their demands. The advantage of a boycott over a strike is that the unions can inflict financial harm on the companies without draining the financial resources of the union or workers, said union spokesman Ron Lind.

In addition, the campaign provides a platform for communicating with the customers on a scale that typically doesn't occur short of picket lines, said Bill Sokol, a union labor attorney with Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld.

"It is a different way to try to say to the public, 'We have a problem here; we want you to know about the problem and we want you to stop supporting this employer,'" he said.

But it's not without risks: The companies retain the right to lay off workers, cut their hours or lock them out. Moreover, a boycott could simply fail.

"Very rarely do you see a boycott ... change a party's position at the table," said Adam Abrahms, a management labor lawyer with Proskauer Rose LLP. "I think the entire tactic is a sign of weakness. If they were really serious and they felt like they could put enough pressure on the supermarkets to make a change, they'd go on strike."

Local union representatives say they will strike if necessary, but some question if the UFCW, still stinging financially from the Southern California strike, could afford a prolonged labor action.

Pleasanton-based Safeway, which has been singled out in the boycott campaign, said the effort will ultimately be fruitless. "We'd rather not have it going on in our parking lots," spokesman Brian Dowling said. "However, is it going to change our conduct at the bargaining table? No."

But the company was bothered enough to file a grievance with the union over the activity and is planning to take the matter to arbitration. It believes the boycott efforts are prohibited by language in the existing labor contract, Dowling said.

The UFCW disputes that interpretation. Meanwhile, it has filed its own charge with the federal body that administers labor law, claiming the company has tightened its store solicitation policy expressly to undercut workers signature collection efforts.

"Safeway enacted it in September, clearly in retaliation for this activity," UFCW attorney Matthew Ross said. "It has had a very definite chilling effect on employees and it was intended to."

Dowling responded that the solicitation policy is content-neutral and has been in place for years.

Despite representing opposing parties, attorneys Sokol and Abrahms agree that the legal maneuvers are more about posturing than punishment. Any penalty over the solicitation issue would probably lack teeth and probably wouldn't be determined before the contract in question is settled.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Front Page News; News/Current Events; US: California
KEYWORDS: safeway; unions; unionthugs

1 posted on 12/16/2004 10:24:25 AM PST by SmithL
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To: SmithL
So they want me to promise to help them raise my food prices?
2 posted on 12/16/2004 10:33:05 AM PST by atomicpossum (I am the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to me.)
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To: SmithL

I despise unions and their tactics. If they do this, I may have to start shopping at Safeway.

3 posted on 12/16/2004 10:35:59 AM PST by SandyInSeattle (Official RKBA Landscaper and Arborist, Pajama Duchess of Green Leafy Things)
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To: atomicpossum

Let them to go ahead and strike - they can be out of work for like 6 months like the grocery workers in So. Cal. who ended up getting absolutely nothing in the end. In fact, they got a worse deal than the one originally offered. There are too many options for groceries and its too easy to keep the stores open.

4 posted on 12/16/2004 10:57:44 AM PST by keat
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To: SmithL
Albertsons Inc. and local Kroger Co. chains recently submitted proposals that would shift some health care and benefit costs onto employees and reduce wages for new hires.

The unions should take the offer or they will wind up on the picket line for months as happened in L.A. County. However, if the union were smart, they would put in provisions to revisit the stores claims at some future date and be able to re-negotiate within an existing contract. But union thugs are not smart and they don't know how to look at the big picture or the long term. Just their own immediate needs for union power that eventually kills the union.

5 posted on 12/16/2004 11:06:47 AM PST by elbucko (Feral Republican)
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To: SortaBichy

Paper or plastic ping!

6 posted on 12/16/2004 11:08:41 AM PST by ErnBatavia (ErnBatavia, Coulter, Malkin, Ingraham....the ultimate Menage a Quatro)
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To: SmithL

I make a point of shopping at Safeway whenever there's a picket line to cross. It's a counter-boycott, if you will.

7 posted on 12/16/2004 11:39:31 AM PST by PeterFinn (The NAACP can have a recount of the Ohio vote if I can have a recount of the Million Man March.)
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To: PeterFinn

i make a point of shopping at safeway.

me to me to.
we had a grocery store strike early this summer
always made it a point to shop where the strikers set up.
just love watching them stop waving as i pull in instead of drive by and "honk" in support. BARF
i have been in 5 different unions, missouri being a non right to work state, never needed a one. if you shake a mans hand and go to work for him, why do you need someone to protect your interests. GET TO WORK LAZY BASTA*DS

8 posted on 12/16/2004 5:19:27 PM PST by 537cant be wrong (no kittie! thats my pot pie!)
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