Key development: Named new leader of the 1.4 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
While some have suggested that labor was ultimately defeated in the acrimonious Southern California grocery strike- lockout, the United Food and Commercial Workers' new leader, Joe Hansen, is quietly confident that it won't happen again.
Hansen was named international president of the 1.4 million-member Washington-based union in March, succeeding Doug Dority, who retired after the 141-day dispute was finally settled. In an interview with SN, Hansen said the Southern California situation "wasn't good for either side," but added the union emerged with "a different attitude" that it has ridden to settlements with retailers in Washington, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, Texas and Illinois. As contract expirations loom in Northern California, Denver, Nevada and Seattle, Hansen is determined to use that attitude to fight for fair settlements.
Observers described Hansen as a low-key man who works tremendously hard and has strong union roots. Hailing from the union hotbed of Milwaukee, Hansen was a butcher at National Food Stores. He rose to local union leadership and was hired by the International in 1973. Hansen was instrumental in organizing packing houses across the country. As leader of Local 653 in Minnesota in 1986, he negotiated the final settlement in a bitter 15-month strike against Hormel Foods. When pressed, Hansen admitted it was one of his proudest accomplishments. "As bitter and divisive as that was, I had a goal in mind to keep that plant union [and] get a good contract. We achieved it."
Hansen said his goals as UFCW president are to help change the political climate in Washington and to refocus UFCW's efforts to organize Wal-Mart. The former, he said, is key to making changes in health care policy. "The health care crisis has created tremendous problems for us at the bargaining table and I believe there has to be a political solution."
"Doug Dority was seen by many as the proverbial deferential diplomat, whereas Joe Hansen is a real rank-and-file street leader. He's a far tougher guy and has a level of support among the locals not seen since the time of Jimmy Hoffa Sr.," said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director, Strategic Resource Group, New York.