Supermarket News recently reported the agreement between the United Farm Workers union, the AFL-CIO, and American Stores, the parent company of Lucky Stores, Jewel Food Stores and Acme Markets. [This was reported in the July 7, 1997 issue of SN.]
This agreement is historic because the UFW changed its position to that of the Strawberry Workers and Farmers Alliance and it ends the aggressive market interference campaign of the labor organizations.
In early 1996, the UFW/AFL-CIO demanded supermarkets sign a pledge implying support of their quest of sweetheart contracts covering the entire strawberry industry. It also incorporated demands not required by law. In some cities, representatives including Reverend Jessie Jackson demanded strawberries be taken from the shelves. Labor executive Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, threatened, "We will go to the stores and watch your fruit rot on the shelves and we will watch their profits rot on the vine."
Significantly, the UFW now concedes farm worker rights come before those of a single union, meaning workers choose whether or not they want a collective bargaining representative rather than an industrywide sweetheart contract.
We suggest that all concerned supermarkets embrace the pledge similar to the one signed by American Stores. In support of farm workers:
* We pledge our commitment to workers in California strawberry fields, recognizing they are an essential part of the nation's food production system.
* We support the following rights for strawberry workers: to organize and certify or decertify collective bargaining representation under the California Agricultural Relations Act; the right to seek enforcement of laws and regulations for proper field sanitation, clean drinking water and washing facilities; and the right to work in a discrimination-free environment.
* We require all of our vendors, including those in the strawberry industry, to abide by the applicable laws and regulations governing such conditions and conduct, and will encourage the continued recognition of these basic rights.
* We welcome and accept the recognition of organized labor that our first obligation is to our customers and that it is our customers who, through their purchases, will guide our merchandising.
The SW&FA is neither pro union nor anti-union and was formed in early 1996 to protect open markets for strawberries produced on farms where workplace laws and regulations are met or exceeded. SW&FA supporters called on the State Labor Commissioner's office to strengthen its enforcement of laws and regulations to assure all employers were in full and equal compliance.
American Stores made it very clear their pledge is no different than what they would sign regarding any other product on their shelves. They reaffirmed our policy and their own, while getting rid of harassment of their customers by anti-strawberry industry demonstrators.
Strawberry farm workers and farmers publicly signed the new pledge at a news conference and have been joined by several supermarkets.