WESTPORT, Conn. -- Local 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union here has accused Stew Leonard's Dairy Store of illegally impeding attempts to unionize employees at the company's Norwalk, Conn., store.
In a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board, Local 371 said company supervisors have been instructed by company officials to "interrogate" employees to determine whether they are pro- or anti-union. According to the complaint, company officials also threatened to fire employees, or reduce their hours, if they signed a union card.
Bill Hollis, vice president of the company, told SN the employees are well cared for and do not want to unionize, and the company expects to be cleared of the charge. Stew Leonard Jr., the company's president, was not available for comment.
"Unions basically are great for companies who mistreat, underpay and abuse their employees," Hollis said. "We're renowned for treating our employees fairly. Unions are good for companies that are poorly managed. We don't happen to need that.
"Our belief is, 'You take care of your people, and they take care of your customers,' " Hollis added.
Hollis said the push to unionize has come from outside the company, not from the store's employees.
"We would be a great coup for the union because of their declining membership," Hollis said. "We're a good target for them."
Thirty percent of the store's 500 employees are needed to sign union cards to force an election on unionizing the store, said Local 371 secretary-treasurer Brian Petronella. Petronella would not reveal how many employees have signed the cards, but he called it "a substantial number."
The NLRB's office in Hartford, Conn., will take statements from employees and then determine if the complaint has merit. If the board rules in favor of the union, it could force Stew Leonard's to post a notice informing employees of their right to organize,
Petronella said. Petronella said many of the employees are immigrants and are not aware of the laws protecting union-building activities. Petronella said the union has been trying to organize Stew Leonard's for several years. But the process has been stepped up since May, when the union began receiving complaints from Stew Leonard's employees about not receiving premium pay for working Sundays and other conditions.
Hollis denied the charges and said the company implemented time-and-a-half pay on Sundays, but that was in response to an extensive internal attitude survey, not union pressure.