Workers Demand Respect and Fair Treatment by UNFI
Union Announces Resource Fair to Support Employees January 11, 2020
Members of UFCW Local 400 working at Shoppers stores rallied yesterday to condemn chain owner UNFI’s sudden decision to close four stores and sell 13 others in the midst of the holiday season. Joined by elected officials, community leaders and allies from other unions, they demanded to be treated with respect and redoubled their efforts to fight for justice and fair treatment for all affected workers.
“We’re here today for a sad moment,” Local 400 President Mark P. Federici told rally goers in front of a Landover Shoppers draped in “Store Closing” signs. “We’re here today because somebody in a far-off office in a far-off city made a choice. Somebody made a choice to turn their back on these families. Somebody made that choice in the Christmas season. That’s just wrong. It just stinks.
“Prince George’s County residents deserve more than empty shelves,” Federici said.
“They deserve more than empty storefronts. They deserve more than the people who have made their living here not knowing what tomorrow is going to hold.
“We’re here to lend our voices in support of our members,” he added. “We’re here to lend our voices to get somebody to make better choices for people who did nothing wrong other than get up every day, six days a week, holidays, nights and evenings, and go to work. Your back hurts, your shoulder hurts, your legs hurt, your feet hurt, yet through it all, you remain pleasant for the customers and contribute to the success of your company. And the thanks our members get is to have somebody turn their backs on us the week before Christmas. Shame!”
Amber Stevens, an 11-year veteran who works at Shoppers #2669 in Forestville, Md., said, “The past year has been very hard not knowing what will happen next. We are calling on [Shoppers owner] UNFI to give us some answers. We are decent human beings who deserve to be treated that way.”
“I want to let UNFI know that we’re not going to give up,” said Local 400 Vice President Kevin Freeman, who works at Shoppers #2618 in New Carrollton. “I want them to understand what they are putting families through so close to Christmas. I want them to see the kids who will look under their trees and won’t find the gifts they were expecting. I don’t understand how UNFI executives can sleep at night.”
Chartel Scott, a 27-year Shoppers veteran who works at the Oxon Hill store, noted that not only is her future up in the air, but so is her daughter’s, whose last day at Shoppers in Waldorf is today. “We deserve answers,” she said. “If we hadn’t been on the front lines, the company would not be what it is today. Some of us, when we didn’t want to get up, we got up and went to work anyway to make sure our store’s needs were taken care of. We could have said no, but we kept pushing. One year ago, UNFI said something was going to happen but you didn’t say it was going to happen a week before Christmas. We deserve better. We deserve respect.”
Lenace Edwards of UNITE HERE told the stories of several Shoppers workers, including Mary, who has worked for Shoppers for 24 years, raising three children and putting them through college. “Now she has six grandkids,” Ms. Edwards said. “A week from Christmas, Mary doesn’t know what she’s going to do next. We have another worker, Shannon, a young mom who started working at Shoppers a year ago, and thought she finally found a quality job with good benefits and good pay. And now she is also wondering what she’s going to do.
“This company has decided to sell off its properties not because it’s in financial straits, not because it’s not doing well, because they just decided to,” Ms. Edwards charged. “And that leaves hundreds of workers in the lurch just before Christmas. This is unacceptable.”
A host of elected officials spoke at the rally and lent their support.
State Delegate and Assistant Majority Leader Wanika Fisher (D-47B) said, “You’re working so hard for your families. And this is a disgrace. Because businesses like this make money from who? From families. From us. From consumers. From people visiting their establishments. And I think it’s time they put the consumer and you first by supporting you.”
Noting that her district is one of the most diverse in Maryland, Fisher added, “My community not only wants to be able to shop at places where they see their friends and family; they want to shop at places that respect their friends and family. And right now what’s going on is not respect. It’s not respect for everything the workers do to make a profit for them. We will take this fight to Annapolis and we will have your back because you are the fabric of my community.”
State Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-28) decried the fact that Maryland law only recommends but does not require that workers at facilities employing 50 or more people receive 90 days notice of a closure. “We’re prepared to introduce legislation in January to turn these recommendations into requirements,” he said, “so that our hard working men and women do not have to beg for this company to treat you like human beings, to treat you with respect. We will take action in Annapolis to fix the holes in the system.”
“When you suffer, Prince George’s County suffers,” said County Councilmember Calvin Hawkins (D-At-Large). “It’s time to stop this foolishness. When you have individuals at a corporate headquarters that’s not located here making decisions that impact families, that impact people who’ve worked 40 years in our communities, and then give the workers one week’s notice, we need to make sure this cannot happen in Prince George’s County.”
“The hard working men and women of UFCW Local 400 deserve better than this,” said U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.). “As our country readies for the holidays, the people who help put food on our tables should not have to wonder how their own families will do so this year. Store closures, layoffs uncertain employment status and benefits have caused immense anxiety for these workers. I stand in solidarity with my neighbors and will continue to fight alongside them for fairness and respect.”
Community allies also voiced their support. “We’re in a situation where everyone is talking about food apartheid and food deserts,” said the NAACP’s Bob Ross, “and if you take this store away, what do you create? More than a food desert. It creates the atmosphere for negative health outcomes for families. When you take away jobs, you add to the problem of mass incarceration. So we must stand together. The NAACP is with you and we’ll be with you until the end.”
At the rally, a representative of the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO Community Services Agency announced a Resource Fair for Shoppers workers. It will be held on Saturday, January 11, 2020, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at the UFCW Local 400 Headquarters, 8400 Corporate Drive, Suite 200, Landover, Md. There, workers can connect with resources to help them in both the short-term and the long run.
The rally was called in the wake of UNFI’s recent decision to close four stores and sell 13 others. The closed stores are in Baltimore (Liberty Road) and Severn, Md., and Manassas and Alexandria, Va. Stores in California and Waldorf, MD will be sold to McKay’s on December 18th. Five stores — in Baltimore (Anchor Square), Colmar Manor, Capitol Heights and Landover, MD — will be sold to Compare Foods on January 2, 2020. And on that same day, six stores — in Annapolis, Brooklyn Park, Oxon Hill, Takoma Park and Wheaton, MD, and Burke, VA — will be sold to a German chain, Lidl, that is globally notorious for its anti-worker practices.
Local 400 is currently bargaining with UNFI over the terms of the sales and closures, including severance pay, continuing health care coverage, and job search assistance and retraining.