Labor Notes’ Steward’s Corner: In a ‘Right to Work’ State, Union Grows by Fighting Racism

Shop Steward and Kroger Richmond/Tidewater bargaining committee member, Laverne Wrenn, wrote a column for the publication Labor Notes describing how she and her coworkers took notes, kept records and confronted a racist manager that worked in her store in Portsmouth, Va. since 2011 and gained solidarity and more membership in her store.

“We continued to document everything she did. We put together a team of people from different departments and shifts to make sure we caught every incident. We filed grievances every time we could, so that Kroger would recognize it had a problem manager.”

As the members got stronger the manager attempted the same to “get rid” of them.

“Finally she made a mistake even Kroger could not ignore,” wrote Wrenn. “She was trying to get some of the ‘black girls’ fired for not signing their names properly after cleaning the deli. To make them look worse, she forged a customer comment card with a complaint.”

She got caught.

After nearly two years, the manager was gone. This just proves that when you stick together in your stores real change can happen, real power can be generated as more members join our fight for workers’ rights.

Since Virginia is a “right to work” state, not everyone in Wrenn’s store is a union member, but when people saw the power her and her fellow union members had to stand up to their racist manager and still have the protection to do so, many who’d never been interest in the union before came to her and signed up. “They wanted to join me in fighting back,” said Wrenn.

Read more of Wrenn’s experience of standing up to fight back to her store’s manager.