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Local 400 Member Helps Organize Union At His Second Job

Darius Smith, who served on the union bargaining committee, addresses the crowd at a Giant Food mass meeting in Washington, DC.

Two years ago, Darius Smith, a courtesy clerk at Giant #347 in Kettering, Md., was looking for a new job. He was feeling underappreciated, and he often found himself doing tasks that were not in his job description. He thought maybe he had simply gone as far as he could with Giant Food.

But when he talked to his union representative, Heather Thomas, about job opportunities at the union, she had another idea. She told him about the collective bargaining process and asked him to join the bargaining committee, and Darius agreed. He realized that perhaps his work at Giant was not done yet.

Darius had never participated in a union committee before, and he admits, “all I knew [about unions] was paying union dues until I talked to my representative.” He describes being a member of the 2016 Giant bargaining committee and attending listening sessions as “eye opening for me, because it was like, ‘Wow! Everyone is going through the same thing.’”

About a year ago, he started working as a caterer at the World Bank. Although his first impression was of a “family oriented” company, it wasn’t long before, “I started to notice issues [with how they treated us], and we had to deal with them pretty much on our own,” he says. “I don’t know if I was nervous at first but when I saw problems arising I was like, ‘Yeah, we need a union.’”

In April, Darius attended the bi-annual Labor Notes Conference in Chicago with other Local 400 members. He expressed his frustrations about his new job to UFCW Local 400 Mobilization Director Alan Hanson. Darius told Alan about how he and his co-workers were being asked to take on larger tasks than they could handle; how some of his co-workers, many of whom are immigrants, felt that their employer was guilty of discrimination; and how, in January, the World Bank had started cutting hours of both full-time and on-call employees without warning or explanation.

“The World Bank is about ending poverty all over the world but if you look at how they treat us it’s completely hypocritical,” Smith says.

Alan put Darius in touch with UNITE HERE Local 23, which primarily represents workers in the hospitality industry.

Darius was one of the few World Bank catering employees who had experience with a union, and he didn’t hesitate to take the lead in helping his co-workers get organized, although he says they didn’t need much prodding. In fact, he describes going to talk to a co-worker who Darius had heard might be hesitant about joining a union. By the time Darius got a chance to talk to him, he was already wearing a union button. “I guess other people had talked to him already,” he says. “I think he just didn’t really know about it [at first] but by the day of the election he was really ready to go.”

It seems this was true of most of his co-workers, 89% of whom voted to join the union in June.

But Darius knows from his experiences with Giant that the fight is far from over. “I really look forward to bargaining with the company, having everyone come together to formulate a better contract,” he says.

Along with experience and knowledge of the bargaining process, Darius’ contributes a great amount of spirit to his bargaining unit. “At Giant we had a lot of faith, and I think I can bring that, helping people keep faith, keep strong, keep motivated,” he says.

His experience as an assistant pastor at Hope in Christ Ministry helps him do this. It also helps him connect with his co-workers at the World Bank, one of whom is a priest and many of whom he believes to be similarly motivated by faith.

Darius hopes to be on the World Bank bargaining committee, and though formal listening sessions haven’t started yet, it seems that one of his greatest strengths is that he is always listening. He’s already gotten a lot of insight from co-workers about what their demands are, and he says that being part of Local 23 has given him an idea of what wages and contracts look like throughout the industry.

But for Darius, being part of a union means more than a new and improved contract. “When you’re part of a union you have something to look up to,” he says.

He also says that one of the most valuable things he has gotten from his involvement with the union is an education. “I’m not in college, I don’t have a college degree but I’m working with legislators and affecting laws, doing all these things people think you can’t do if you don’t go to college,” he says. “There’s more ways to succeed than college and I feel like I’m on that road.”

Now he is looking for ways to apply all that he has learned, and is learning, to his life beyond work. “Now that I have that union backing and that ministerial backing, it’s just a matter of finding that avenue, of how can I apply my skills to other social and community activism,” he says. “This is still very new for me but I know that the union can open doors for that.”

Kroger Shop Steward Wins Promotions, Raises for 10 Members

Drema Trent, a shop steward at Kroger #322 in Vinton, Va., won raises for ten courtesy clerks at her store by enforcing the contract.

If you work at a Kroger store in the Roanoke region, you know courtesy clerks have a tough job to do.  They are the lowest paid employees in the store and have little to no opportunity for advancement.

Kroger justifies this practice by saying courtesy clerks are only responsible for a limited set of duties – such as bagging groceries and returning shopping carts. If a courtesy clerk is assigned work above and beyond their normal duties, he or she is supposed to get paid more for doing that work. But we all know that more than not, Kroger is cheating these workers out of the higher pay they deserve.

When Drema Trent saw courtesy clerks working the cash registers at her Kroger store, she decided to do something about it.

A shop steward and front-end clerk at Kroger #322 in Vinton, Va., Drema took photos of every courtesy clerk working a register. She talked with them and had them sign forms testifying that they were assigned work beyond the scope of a courtesy clerk’s responsibilities. She then sent the information to her Local 400 representative, Steve Meador, who verified the details and took it to management.

The result? Ten courtesy clerks were promoted to front-end clerks and given raises. And Kroger now faces arbitration over whether the store violated the contract’s “three strikes” policy against misusing courtesy clerks, which would eliminate the position entirely.

“It felt really good to enforce the contract and get results for the young men and women involved,” Drema said. “They were really happy about it. And it improved morale on the front end.”

Drema makes it a priority to sign new employees up as Local 400 members—and this action certainly provided a reminder about why joining their union is the best investment they can make in their future. “I’ve got a good rapport with the younger people,” she said. “I explain to them what a union is, since many of them don’t actually know that. I talk about how our union gets them better wages and benefits, and how if you ever get in trouble, you won’t have to go alone, one of us will be with you to make sure you’re treated fairly.

“I also discuss how fantastic our insurance is,” she added. “I was in a car accident last year and had to be out for more than half a year. My health costs were covered and our union paid me for six months.

“And then I talk about my daughter, who’s 22, started at Kroger when she was 14, and now works full-time with full benefits,” Drema said. “This also makes them see the advantage of joining Local 400.”

Drema started at Kroger 10 years ago. It was her first union job, and the fact that workers had Local 400 representation was a big reason why she wanted to work there. She became a shop steward nearly two years ago. “I have kind of a big mouth,” she said, “and knew everybody in the store, so it seemed like a natural thing to do.”

She attended some of the union meetings last year during negotiations over the current Kroger-Roanoke contract. “It was the first time I’d been to one and it was a very powerful thing to witness,” she recalled. “I’d like to be involved in future negotiations.”

For Drema, Kroger is a family business. In addition to her 22-year-old daughter, Katie Robertson, her 33-year-old daughter, Jennifer Trent, also works at Kroger and is interested in becoming a shop steward. She also has a 24-year-old son who worked at Kroger for five years before moving to another job, and an older son who is 36. She lives in Thaxton.

“It’s really important to have a voice to speak for you other than just yourself,” Drema said. “If you’re at Kroger, you have somebody on your side—your union. And I think we have 10 of my Local 400 sisters and brothers at my store who can testify to that.”

Victory! All Courtesy Clerks Promoted at Kroger Store in Lynchburg

Member activism and the hard work of Local 400 shop steward Mary Little won a landmark victory at a Kroger store—all courtesy clerks were promoted to front end clerks, gaining raises, benefits, holiday pay and paid vacations in the process.

In fact, all Local 400 members working at Kroger under the Roanoke and West Virginia contracts have the power to make the same gains at their stores if management regularly assigns courtesy clerks tasks beyond the scope of their position, such as stocking shelves or providing break relief for cashiers.

Thanks to tough negotiating by Kroger members, the current contracts inRoanoke and West Virginia state clearly that if management at any store misuses courtesy clerks in this way three times, all courtesy clerks are promoted and the position is eliminated. It doesn’t matter how far apart the violations happen or whether they involve different managers or courtesy clerks—it’s “three strikes and you’re out!”

At Kroger #408 on Boonsboro Road in Lynchburg, Mary Little uncovered three such violations. They took place this fall, involving two courtesy clerks and two store managers.

“I saw that one courtesy clerk was manning the register,” Mary said. “I made sure what his classification was, and then I snapped a picture. They asked me what was going on and I explained why I did it. The courtesy clerk said he’d been working as a cashier for a while. I took it to the store manager; he blamed it on the courtesy clerk and said he’d deal with it. But he didn’t. Because several weeks later, I caught the same violation.

“A few weeks after that, I caught a different courtesy clerk working as a cashier and she told me she’d been doing it for almost a year,” Mary recalled. “Management did promote her and gave her back pay, which was good. She was very grateful, said she’d put her back pay in the bank and would use it toward college.

“Most important, this was the third violation,” she said. “So my representative and I put the wheels in motion to enforce the contract.” On January 6, 2017, Kroger confirmed the workers’ victory in a letter, stating:

A copy of the statement signed by Kroger announcing that all courtesy clerks at a store in Lynchburg would be promoted and the courtesy clerk job classification would be eliminated at the store entirely.

Store 408 will no longer hire associates into the Courtesy Clerk classification. All associates currently classified as a Courtesy Clerk will be reclassified as a Front End Clerk effective Sunday, January 8, 2016. All future associates being hired for the courtesy clerk position will now be hired and classified as a Front End Clerk for the duration of the existing contract.

This was a huge achievement, but Mary isn’t resting on her laurels. She travels to other Krogers on her two days off.  “I’m going to go to every shop steward,” she said. “I’m going to talk to them, hand them the playbook on how to do this, and tell them how we did it at our store. I’ll coach them, because all courtesy clerks deserve the same raises and benefits as the rest of us.

It’s not that hard to do,” Mary explained. “You just have to be focused and you have to pay attention to your surroundings. You can do your work and also look out for people at the same time. You have to know who your courtesy clerks are. Communication is the number one thing.”

“This is one area where it’s relatively easy for members to make a difference and improve the lives of their brothers and sisters,” said Local 400 representative Philip Frisina, who serves Kroger #408 and other stores in the region. “The process is so simple. If you see a courtesy clerk given non-courtesy clerk tasks, take photos, document the violation, and contact your representative. That’s all it took to get our members the promotions they deserved at this store, and that’s all it will take at any other store. The power is in our members’ hands.”

Under the Kroger collective bargaining agreements in West Virginia and in the Roanoke region, after the first written complaint, the store must stop assigning improper tasks to courtesy clerks. After the second written complaint, any affected courtesy clerks must start getting paid at the part-time clerk hourly rate effective immediately upon the date the written complaint is received. And after the third written complaint, the courtesy clerk classification is eliminated at the store.

“I believe everyone should be treated equally,” Mary said. “Courtesy clerks have a hard job. They’re out there in the snow and sleet pushing carts and I always thought it was wrong for Kroger not to give them benefits. They are my co-workers and my friends, and I’m going to do whatever I can to help them out. If I can make a difference in one person’s life, I’m all for it.

“It’s a wonderful thing that we did,” Mary emphasized, “and I’m just going to do everything I can to get every shop steward on board so we can get all of these courtesy clerks what they deserve.”

How YOU Can Take Action

If you work as a courtesy clerk, or if you see a courtesy clerk at your store doing work he or she shouldn’t have to do, you should file a written complaint. Remember, if this happens three times at your store, the courtesy clerk “classification” will be eliminated at your store and courtesy clerks will be promoted.

Here’s how you can make a difference:

  1. Ask your rep for a copy of the Courtesy Clerk Playbook – inside you’ll find all documentation and forms you need to properly file a complaint with your store manager.
  2. Take a photo of the courtesy clerk performing duties outside the scope of his/her job.
  3. Take a photo of the schedule for that day.
  4. Fill out a Notice of Complaint form and take a photo of the complaint after you’ve filled it out. The form can be found in the Courtesy Clerk Playbook.
  5. Give the completed Notice of Complaint to your store manager.
  6. Fill out an Incident Report form to document the violation. Write down anything the manager said after you delivered the complaint. Note the date, time, name of the courtesy clerk, and the name of the person you believe assigned the courtesy clerk improper duties. Take a photo of the form after you’ve filled it out.
  7. Send everything to Local 400 for our records, including the photos described above to:

Alan Hanson, UFCW Local 400
ahanson@local400.org
(301) 256-6405