SAN JOSE, Calif. — In a move union officials said would provide added clout in contract negotiations with supermarket employers, seven San Francisco Bay area locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers have agreed to combine into a single entity known as UFCW Local 5.
“The industry we work in is changing and we have to change too,” Ron Lind, who will become president of the merged union when it becomes effective Jan. 1, told SN in an interview. “A larger union will allow us to speak with a common voice.”
The merger of UFCW locals 120, 373, 1096, 839, 870, 1179 and 428 will represent about 25,000 workers in the California counties of Napa, Solano, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito. Lind, currently the president of San Jose-based Local 428, said the combined entities would have a strike fund of $7 million, better organizing capabilities and more efficient operations.
Earlier this year, two other UFCW Locals in California, 588 and 1288, combined to form UNFC 8-Golden State, a 30,000-member organization based in Fresno representing workers in 40 California counties from the Oregon border to Kern County. As was the case with Local 5, union leaders said additional leverage in negotiations with growing corporate employers sparked the need for a larger union.
UFCW Locals in Southern California do not currently have plans to merge, said Jim Papian, a spokesman for UFCW's national office in Washington.
The seven locals comprising Local 5 all have contracts with employers set to expire in December 2007, Lind said. Major employers include Safeway, Albertsons LLC (which recently reached an agreement to sell its stores to Save Mart) and Raley's, Lind said.
A brochure posted on the websites of the merging locals argued that a combined union would prevent employers from using “divide and conquer” strategies that, for example, set market rates for renewal for all locals based on the rates agreed upon in a local market with low cost of living expenses.
“In the days when UFCW employers were local and regional operators negotiating contract settlements based on local market conditions, it made sense to have small local unions. For some locations it even made sense to have separate units serving front-end workers and back-end workers. But those days are gone,” read a brochure about the merger posted on the UFCW website.
The combined union will also have additional resources to take on Wal-Mart Stores through coalitions, and affect political change by backing of candidates or legislation in local, state and national elections, Lind said.
Once the unions combine there will be significant savings on infrastructure, Papian added.