SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Jack Loveall, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 588 here, told SN he's "ready to rock and roll" as his 28,000 members move toward a July 17 expiration of their contract with Albertsons and Safeway at stores extending from central California north to the Oregon border. (Union members in the San Francisco Bay Area are covered by UFCW Local 428, and face a contract expiration date of Sept. 11.) Citing the strike-lockout in Southern California that sidelined 59,000 UFCW members for 20 weeks, Loveall spoke confidently with SN as he indicated his belief that his union will be able to negotiate a better contract because of the groundwork laid by the Southern California membership.
SN: What is the status of your talks with Safeway and Albertsons?
Loveall: We're meeting with them several times a week, and they are very difficult discussions, based on what happened in Southern California and in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area. Health and welfare are the major issues, as they were in Southern California, and there are a whole plethora of issues the employers are after that are making it difficult -- issues we have no intent of agreeing with.
SN: Do you think you can settle those issues without a strike, and do you expect to end up with a better contract than locals in Southern California or other parts of the country?
Loveall: We have a long way to go before making any strike decisions, and we have a lot of work to do until then. But we have a history of managing settlements, not strikes. And I do think we can get a better settlement because we're trying to do more creative things to avoid a cliffhanger situation.
The last time we had a clerk and meat-cutter strike in Northern California was in 1995, and it lasted nine days. As a result of that strike, Safeway introduced a program requiring their employees to make eye contact with customers. That program actually hurt Safeway in the long run because it enabled customers to get to know the employees, and as a result, when there's a labor action at the stores today, customers won't shop there.
The independents [in Southern California] are saying they've held onto 10% of the business they picked up during the strike-lockout, but it's probably closer to 20%, and the chains don't want to take the risk of losing that kind of business in Northern California.
SN: If there is a strike in Northern California, how would it differ from the situation in Southern California?
Loveall: We had 15 representatives from our local working with striking and locked-out members in Southern California, and we learned a lot. The strike there will make negotiations easier for all of us here because the locals in Southern California stood tall.
In addition, as a result of a summit meeting, the UFCW international union is ready to help with a tactical plan involving radio spots, newspaper ads and phone banks all over the U.S. and Canada where one of these chains is operating. The international has already prepared spots that will appear all over the U.S. and Canada if we have a strike in Northern California.
SN: Why do you say it will be easier for your local to negotiate with the chains?
Loveall: We don't believe Safeway and Albertsons want a repeat of Southern California, but if they do, it will be far worse for them because of the support we've been promised all over the U.S. and Canada. So we're ready to rock and roll if it comes to that, and we believe we will devastate them because the impact then was confined to Southern California. But this time the international will be involved, and they too are ready to roll.
SN: Will the two-tier system that was imposed by the contract in Southern California work?
Loveall: A two-tier system will hurt the chains on an ongoing basis. It happened in 218 A.D. when the emperor Macrinus put a two-tier wage system into his legions, and the troops revolted and killed him. That's in the history books, and is just one example of what happens when institutions do not treat their people fairly and equitably. Two-tier systems don't work for companies looking to grow and maintain a meaningful workforce. With the two-tier system in place in Southern California, clerks there have told me they will look the other way if they see customers shoplifting or walk by if a bottle breaks.