Tagged as member spotlight


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.”

Shop Stewards Save Members from Dust Exposure

Local 400 shop stewards from several plants in Virginia, including DanChem Technologies, pose for a photo at a seminar in May 2017.

Banks Stamps, Jr., has worked at DanChem Technologies in Danville, Va., for 42 years, and he became a shop steward in 2004 after a 10-month-long strike. One of his top priorities ever since has been to build a worker-run safety program to better protect members’ health. Recently, Banks and two fellow shop stewards, Mike Barker and Eddie Dalton, put that program to the test.

The shipping & receiving lead person at DanChem, Banks knew something wasn’t right when UFCW International Vice President Robin Williams came to the plant for a tour. “There were certain areas that management didn’t take her around to,” Banks said. “But I’ve been here so long, I knew what processes were going on.”

It turns out that one particular room was being used to package a newly-produced material for a customer that was demanding a lot of this product. (The specifics can’t be revealed because it’s proprietary information.)

“The product’s put in large tote bin,” Banks explained. “It comes out of a shoot. Then it’s put through a sifter, which vibrates, turning larger granules into a powder. The problem is it leaves plenty of dust in the air. It’s dangerous to inhale and it actually has explosive properties. Making matters worse, there was no ventilation in the room where the packaging was taking place.

“So we’ve been working on eliminating or reducing the dust to safe levels,” he said. “Mike [Barker] and I had a meeting with management. We let them know our concerns and that we expect them to do what’s needed to minimize the dust. We also told them they need to address the heat and lack of ventilation in that room.”

In response, DanChem management acted to make some temporary fixes to the problem. “The company said they would make some adjustments on the machine used for packaging,” Banks said. “They would transfer the product into smaller drums and sift it into smaller packages. They would blow in cooled air on hot days. The people doing the packaging would rotate in and out, rather than doing full 12-hour shifts in the one room.

“We made clear to them that these actions need to be followed by a permanent fix,” he added. “Among other steps, they promised to install a permanent air conditioning system. We’re going to hold them to it and we’re going to have follow-up meetings, getting employee participation to improve on the design of the safety solutions. If they had done this from the start, we wouldn’t have had these problems.”

Banks emphasizes that the positive results so far are, “A result of our activism. Our members have an employee-driven safety program. And we have subcommittees dealing with specific parts, like ergonomics. Management is only looking at the bottom line of their profits, so it’s up to us to bring these issues up and demand action. So far we’ve had some success and if management drags its feet, we have the grievance process, which is often enough to move things forward.

“It’s a constant battle, but we’re going to see this through to stop the dust and every hazard our members face,” Banks said.

“Sign-Up” Queen Retires

Laurette Ford, a Local 400 shop steward affectionately known as the “sign up queen,” retired after 29 years of service at Giant Food.

Laurette Ford Organized Tenaciously

Laurette Ford is a force of nature. For more than a decade as a Local 400 shop steward, she made it her mission to build her union by signing up as many new members as humanly possible. And she succeeded brilliantly.

On June 30, Laurette retired from Giant after 29 years as a proud Local 400 member—and she did so with the knowledge and satisfaction that she is leaving her union better than she found it.

“I joined our union in 1988,” Laurette said. “I was making $5.25 an hour. When the kids today complain they don’t make enough money, I tell them that—and make the point that because of their union, they can expect to do a whole lot better in the future just like I’ve done. That’s usually enough to pull them in.

“I also explain that I’m here to work with them if they have any issues inside our store,” she added. “And I tell them about how our union protects our jobs and gets us  benefits few workers have anymore, like good health insurance and pensions. That also persuades them to join.”

“Laurette’s a very hard person to say no to,” said Johnie Perry, her Local 400 representative. “I call her the ‘Sign-Up Queen’ because every day, she worked to build our membership. All of us at Local 400 and especially her sisters and brothers at her store will miss her—but I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a happy retirement.”

For the past three years, Laurette worked as an HBC clerk at Giant #2742 in Arlington. About 10 years ago, at another store, she was asked to serve as a shop steward because she had long been speaking up for and helping her fellow associates. Ever since, she developed a reputation not only for organizing but for solving problems in her stores. “I never had any grievances,” she said. “I always tried to work things out with the manager before issues would get to that point.”

An Alexandria resident, Laurette is looking forward to retirement. “I plan to travel a lot,” she said, “and spend more time with my son, my four granddaughters, and my great grandson.” All live nearby in Manassas.

“I’ve really enjoyed being a shop steward and a Local 400 member,” Laurette said. “Our reps do a wonderful job and it’s great to be able to help people. My co-workers were coming up to me before I retired saying, ‘What are we going to do Miss Laurette when you’re gone?’ I’d always reply, ‘You’ll be okay.’ And that’s true—because our union’s in great shape.”

UFCW Members Make Safety A Priority at Tyson Poultry Plant

On a typical day at the Tyson Foods Processing Plant in Glen Allen, Virginia, Local 400 Shop Steward Aleta Johnsons was operating the Packmat bagging machine. All of a sudden, she heard a co-worker yelling, “Stop, stop, stop! Please help — stop the line!”

She ran to the conveyor belt, where she saw five-pound bags of wingettes piling up and falling on the floor. Then, she immediately pulled a switch and stopped the line.

Just 10 days earlier, this would not have been possible. Only managers had the power to stop the line. But thanks to a recently instituted reform worked out between Local 400 members and Tyson management, any worker has the power to halt the entire production line if he or she witnesses a safety hazard, as Aleta did.

“We’re supposed to have 10 to13 people on our line, but since I’ve been working there, we’ve only had six,” Aleta said. “On that day, there were just four and one was a new person being trained while the line was running. It was too much too fast for too few people. That’s why the chicken was piling up and why I stopped it.

“A manager came back, asked what was going on and I explained what happened,” she recalled. “He said, ‘take your time—I’ll try to get two more people for your line.’ They never came, but he told us to work at our own pace. So about 10 minutes later, we were able to get things back up and running, and we adjusted the speed so we weren’t overwhelmed.”

Aleta makes a point of being safety conscious. “One day several months ago, I was rethreading the Packmat machine,” she said. “It’s not supposed to turn on when the door’s open but the trip wire was blown and that’s what happened. It ripped the sleeve off my smock and could have taken my arm off. It scared the living daylights out of me. We had a standing room only emergency meeting afterward to address the problem.”

A combination of union activism and management concerned about the company’s reputation elevated the importance of safety and the need to empower workers to take action. Tyson launched a national program called “We Care,” with the direct input of UFCW. The first plant to implement the program was Glen Allen, thanks to monthly meetings between workers (including Aleta) and plant managers—meetings required by the collective bargaining agreement between Local 400 and Tyson.

“I’ve seen a difference in management since we’ve had these monthly meetings,” Aleta said.
“The atmosphere is a lot different. They’re taking us seriously when we make recommendations and following through. And not just on safety—the meetings also led to improvements in the pay process and our ability to schedule personal days. There are things we need to work on—like better-staffed lines and an end to 10-hour work days—but it’s coming along. And our union has been so helpful in all of this.”

Thanks to these efforts—and the courage and decisiveness Aleta showed—safety protections for Tyson workers are getting stronger every day.

Congratulations to ABC Drawing Winner, Andre Hickman

Active Ballot Club drawing winner, Andre Hickman (left), poses for a photo with his Local 400 union rep, Johnnie Perry.

Local 400 member Andre Hickman from Safeway #3250 in Alexandria, Va. is the most recent winner of our Active Ballot Club drawing! Congratulations, Andre!

All across the country, corporations and the ultra-wealthy are funneling unprecedented amounts of money into our political system. Their goal is to create an unbalanced and unfair economy where wages are as low as possible and profits replace respect for the workers that created them.

The UFCW Active Ballot Club (ABC) seeks to level the playing field. By bringing together thousands of workers, our political concerns can be amplified to a decibel that is impossible to ignore. ABC supports pro-worker candidates and incumbents from all political parties and is the prominent political action committee dedicated to the interests of UFCW members nationwide.

By joining ABC, active members are automatically entered to win a monthly drawing. Learn more about the UFCW Active Ballot Club and talk to your rep about signing up today!

Congratulations to ABC Drawing Winner, Amadou Diallo

Active Ballot Club drawing winner, Amadou Diallo (left), poses for a photo with his Local 400 union rep, Johnnie Perry.

Local 400 member Amadou Diallo from Giant #780 in Falls Church, Va. is the most recent winner of our Active Ballot Club drawing! Congratulations, Amadou!

All across the country, corporations and the ultra-wealthy are funneling unprecedented amounts of money into our political system. Their goal is to create an unbalanced and unfair economy where wages are as low as possible and profits replace respect for the workers that created them.

The UFCW Active Ballot Club (ABC) seeks to level the playing field. By bringing together thousands of workers, our political concerns can be amplified to a decibel that is impossible to ignore. ABC supports pro-worker candidates and incumbents from all political parties and is the prominent political action committee dedicated to the interests of UFCW members nationwide.

By joining ABC, active members are automatically entered to win a monthly drawing. Learn more about the UFCW Active Ballot Club and talk to your rep about signing up today!

Local 400 Nurse Retires After More Than 50 Years

Local 400 member, Joyce Graham, is retiring in May after more than 50 years working as a nurse.

Joyce Graham says, “I like to be where the action is.” If anything, that’s an understatement. But it goes a long way toward explaining why she has kept working as a nurse at Kaiser Permanente into her late 70s, and is only now retiring this May.

“People have been coming up to me for years, asking me when I was going to retire,” Joyce said. “But nursing is not for wimps. I told them I’m working on making the Guinness Book of World Records. But then I saw on TV that there’s a nurse here in D.C. still working in her 90s. I’m not going to top her, so I figured it was time for me to do other things.”

But the decision wasn’t easy because she loves nursing, her employer and her union so much. “It’s so nice to take care of people and see them get better, it’s rewarding,” she said.

“I’m just going to miss her—she’s a true inspiration for nurses,” said Louise (Lu) Casa, a Kaiser shop steward, nurse practitioner, and longtime colleague and friend of Joyce. “Ever since I’ve known her, she has been a role model. Whenever anything was needed, Joyce was right there. She would help her colleagues, and go out of way to make sure Kaiser patients were properly cared for. She’s remarkable and the younger nurses all look up to her.”

Joyce Graham graduated first in her class at the University of the District of Columbia’s School of Nursing.

Joyce’s more than 50 years in nursing have been marked by a constant drive for self-improvement and desire to learn new skills—so much so, that she was a member of the first graduating class of the University of the District of Columbia’s School of Nursing. And she finished first in her class!

Making her achievement all the more remarkable, Joyce was working as a surgical intensive care nurse at the Washington Veterans Hospital at the same time she was getting her degree—and taking care of her teenage daughter and 18-month-old son, too. “I worked the evening shift from 3:30 to midnight. I got up very early in the morning and tried to prepare dinner for my family before I left to attend school. In between my morning classes and work, I would try to get a few hours of studying in.”

Little wonder that Lu Casa marvels at Joyce’s “amazing energy.”

Joyce started working as a licensed practical nurse in Pittsburgh in the early 1960s. In 1965, she moved to Washington, D.C., and was hired at the VA hospital. After receiving her nursing degree in 1978 and becoming a registered nurse, she moved to internal medicine at the VA. Then, in 1986, she went to work at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, and later at the Washington Hospital Center in their postpartum wing. In 1992, at the encouragement of a friend from her VA Hospital days, Joyce joined Kaiser. She first worked in Advice and then moved to Rheumatology, working at Kaiser’s North Capitol Street and West End Health Centers.

Throughout this time, she conducted regular CPR classes to ensure that staff were certified in this life-saving procedure. She also served as lead nurse for Specialties (all departments other than Internal Medicine) and was responsible for ensuring that all clinical assistants were cross-trained to work in whatever department needed them.

“Joyce is always growing and changing in our profession,” Lu said. “When we opened our Capitol Hill office, our Dermatology Department launched a new therapy called PUVA that uses ultraviolet technology. Joyce was already in her 70s, but she embraced it and became a PUVA nurse.

“She’s someone who really rolls with the punches,” Lu added. “She’s a great patient advocate. And she never misses a day of work—she’s a perfect nurse.”

Joyce has always been a dedicated Local 400 member at Kaiser, too. “As a shop steward, whenever I needed help getting information out to our members, Joyce would help me,” Lu said. “She was like an undesignated steward’s assistant. And she would speak up to management if they were trying to do things she thought were wrong. She was always about making sure patients got the best care.”

Joyce moved from Pittsburgh to the District of Columbia in 1965 and worked at the VA hospital while she pursued her nursing degree.

“Our union’s done a good job,” Joyce said. “Kaiser’s Labor-Management Partnership is a good idea. [Local 400 Board Member] Jaki Bradley and Lu Casa work so hard for us and I’m really proud of them.”

Joyce’s colleagues all testify about her infectious spirit. “She loves to joke,” Lu said. “Joyce was famous for her baking and one April Fool’s Day, she brought in something that looked like one of her wonderful chocolate cakes. When we cut into it, we found it was a box with frosting spread all over it.”

“I like pulling pranks on people,” Joyce admitted. “I like humor. And bringing in food.”

Joyce is also known for her humility. “At Capitol Hill, we have to park offsite and take a shuttle to our offices,” Lu said. “We tried to get Joyce onsite parking to make it easier for her since she’s in her 70s. But she said, ‘No way—I’ll go to the parking lot like everyone else.’”

In retirement, Joyce has no intention of slowing down. “There are so many things I’d like to do,” she said. “I’ll be busy with work at my church, as always. I like to travel and I love going to museums and parades downtown, as well as movies. There’s so much to do and see.

“But I will miss my job,” she noted. “I really like Kaiser Permanente. It’s a great place to work and a great place to get medical care—you can’t beat it. I like their philosophy and how they treat their employees. And I love my colleagues and my profession.”

Local 400 Member Presented with National Nursing Award

Izzy Pistolessi, Kaiser nurse and union shop steward, shares her healthcare expertise as part of the Local 400 Lobby Day on March 23, 2017.

For 18 years, Isolina (“Izzy”) Pistolessi has worked as a nurse at Kaiser’s Falls Church Care Center, but she has done so much more. On the job, she is a mentor to other nurses, conducts outreach to the community, promotes public health, educates and cares for patients, and serves as a Local 400 shop steward. Off the job, she is a volunteer and leader with the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, a member of the Medical Reserve Corps, and a union activist who recently participated in Local 400’s Lobby Day.

And now, she is being presented with Kaiser’s 2016 National Extraordinary Nurse Award!

This is a rare honor, and she is only the second nurse from Kaiser’s Mid-Atlantic Region to receive this recognition. She will be flown to California in May to accept her award.

“I’m very fortunate to work for Kaiser Permanente and do the work that I love to do—caring for patients and nurturing other nurses so they become better,” Izzy said. “And I’m proud to serve my co-workers as a shop steward. To receive this honor is a complete surprise—but it’s also wonderful.”

Izzy is engaged in so many activities, it’s hard to know where she finds the time. At Kaiser, she works in the internal medicine/family practice clinic and she teaches a class in diabetes to Spanish-speaking members every other month. “I talk about how diabetes affects your body, how to take medication, how to better care for yourself, how to identify symptoms, and how to keep track of your blood sugar so you don’t wind up going to emergency room,” she said.

As a member of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and secretary this year, Izzy and members of the organization have been involved in community programs like Feria de la Familia, a program where they provide blood pressure screening to members of the community and offer information on how to improve their health to underserved communities.

Local 400 shop steward, Izzy Pistolessi (first row, far left), also volunteers with the D.C. chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. (Photo via Nahndc Chapter Hispanic Nurse Facebook page).

“I also participated in a program, inspired by Michelle Obama, called Movimiento,” she said.  It is also sponsored by the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. “A group of us spent a day at a Washington, D.C., public school, where we did a health fair and we taught children about proper nutrition, what foods to eat and the importance of exercise, as well as doing some exercise during the health fair,” Izzy explained.

Other organizations that Izzy has volunteered with as a member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses’ D.C. chapter include the National Kidney Foundation and the American Diabetes Association, doing blood pressure screenings and education.

Izzy has also volunteered with the Fairfax County Medical Reserve Corps for the past 12 years. Started in the wake of the 2001 anthrax scare, the Medical Reserve Corps brings together medical professionals and community members to respond to public health emergencies in their communities.

Izzy became a shop steward approximately nine years ago. “I was asked to take on the role because they knew that I was vocal and passionate, and I had raised concerns that people had brought to my attention,” she said.

Isolina (“Izzy”) Pistolessi has worked as a nurse at Kaiser’s Falls Church Care Center since 1999 and has served as shop steward since 2008.

As shop steward, she works to resolve issues that arise, assists nurses with concerns, and engages in member recruitment. I did new member orientation for a time,” she said. “We talked about not only the representation you get, but the benefits too—especially the free continuing education support that’s so important to nurses.” She also served as delegate in national Kaiser bargaining during previous contract negotiations.

Izzy participates in many Local 400 actions. She went to a Safeway store in Maryland prior to the most recent contract negotiations to let her sisters and brothers know Kaiser members had their backs. “I always shop at Safeway and Giant,” she said, “and I always wear my Local 400 pin. I wear it on the job at Kaiser, too, and it often leads to interesting discussions with my patients.”

She described her participation in the March 23rd Lobby Day as “a wonderful experience. I’d never done that before. The last time I’d been to the Capitol was a field trip when I was a junior in high school.”

“Lobby Day was well-organized and we made our presence known,” Izzy said. “We voiced our concerns and the representatives and senators we spoke with were glad to hear from us. It might have been a coincidence, but it was great that the day after we did this, the Republicans scrapped their bill to undo the Affordable Care Act. It was a worthwhile experience and I’d do it again.”

At the Lobby Day, Izzy spoke from first-hand experience about the patients she sees who gained health insurance for the first time thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and about immigration and her own remarkable life story. She was born in the Dominican Republic, but at age six, her family fled the country because the lives of her politically active parents were threatened during a time of upheaval. They first moved to New York and then settled in Northern Virginia, where her father worked for the Organization of American States and the World Bank.

“The point I made to members of Congress was that like my family, immigrants come to this country to seek safety and opportunity, not to steal or kill,” Izzy said. “I had tears in my eyes when I saw the news on TV about people who were being raided. I, too was once an immigrant and others should have the same opportunities.”

A parent of three adult children, with one grandchild and another on the way, Izzy lives in Fairfax City with her husband. She is deeply proud of all that she does to help her patients and people throughout the community improve their health, and equally proud of how Local 400 helps members improve their lives. She is, by any definition, extraordinary!

Member Spotlight: John Ruiz Is a Force for Solidarity

John Ruiz gave a fiery speech and received a standing ovation at the Safeway contract ratification meeting in November 2016.

John Ruiz believes in solidarity with every fiber of his being. During our recent contract negotiations with Safeway and Giant, Safeway workers reached a tentative agreement, but Giant workers faced a looming strike vote. John took action immediately to show he and his co-workers at Safeway would stand in solidarity with their fellow union members at Giant.

A night grocery manager at Safeway #1365 who served on the Bargaining Advisory Committee, John went into his store, gave his co-workers an update, made up signs saying “Giant workers, we are with you until the end,” took photos, and posted them online. He also got each of them to “adopt a Giant” and commit to picketing or helping their sisters and brothers in other ways if a strike took place.

“I told them, ‘we might have an agreement, but don’t expect it to always be this way,’” John recalled. “‘Next time it could be us. We might wear Safeway uniforms, but Giant members are our brothers and sisters, and we’re in this fight with them until the end.’”

John showed this same spirit of unity and leadership at the ratification meeting on November 16th, when he gave a fiery speech and received a standing ovation.

“Management came crying claiming employees cost too much,” he told his sisters and brothers. “They blamed us for not being able to man the stores. They claimed we were paid too much. We took that as a slap in the face. It was appalling to hear what the company thinks of us. But we’re the ones who keep the engine running. The companies’ proposals were extra motivation for us. In the end, we accomplished our goal of achieving a fair contract, with no extra health care costs and our pay increases. We defeated all cuts. The contract is very good compared to where we started. This is a win for all of us. United we stand, divided we fall. Solidarity is the only way. Union strong!”

In explaining why Local 400 overcame enormous adversity to win a fair contract, John said. “Solidarity was number one. Sticking together and being there for all of us. No matter how high that mountain was, we were going to climb it until we reached the peak. This was a total team effort.

“I was glad to be a part of the Bargaining Advisory Committee,” he added. “Tough as it was to sit across the table from management, hear them claim the stores are understaffed because we’re paid too much, even though they’re all profitable, and not be able to give them a piece of my mind back, I enjoyed being a part of it every single day. As the end result will tell you, it was well worth it—very gratifying.”

John has worked at Safeway for nearly 30 years and his leadership skills were clear to his co-workers for much of this time. Approximately 10 years ago, when his store needed a new shop steward, his sisters and brothers voted him in even though he was out on workers’ compensation after injuring his ankle in an accident with a powerjack. “They told me, ‘we know you’ll stand up for us and fight for us,’” he said. “I enjoy helping the employees out and working to make sure that no one takes advantage of them or violates the contract language.”

John has also gotten involved in other battles for his union. On November 29th, he spoke at a “Fight for $15” rally in Richmond, where the local NBC News affiliate aired footage of him saying, “Minimum wage workers should not have to work a full week and still have to worry about putting food on the table for their families or paying their rent on time.”

Looking to the future, John is ready to help his brothers and sisters out in any way possible. “I’m always there to do my part, no matter how small or how large, to make sure our union stays strong, that we fight for working families, and that we fight to keep and enforce language in the contract that treats employees the right way,” he said. “Too many times the contract isn’t followed, which is why so many grievances are filed. That’s why we need strong shop stewards who are not intimidated or scared to approach management, and who have been trained in how to handle grievances.”

John is a resident of Springfield. He’s married with 18- and 20-year-old children, and has two stepchildren, as well. And for him, being a Local 400 member has meant everything. “It has given me an opportunity enjoy life and have a secure job,” he said. “I was born in Trinidad. I came here with just $50 and one small bag of clothes. I signed up right away and everything I have now, I owe to Local 400. It’s given me great opportunities, helping me rise from courtesy clerk up to grocery manager. And our union is always there when we need it—including for me. I am so grateful for everything.”

Anita Anderson: Organizing for a Better Life

Anita Anderson (front row, third from the left) celebrates with her coworkers at Lipton after winning a union election in August 2016.

For Anita Anderson, working as an operator/trainer at the Lipton Tea factory in Suffolk, Va., could not have been more stressful. For two full years, she and her co-workers were forced to put in 12-hour shifts for 13 consecutive days before they could get a single day off.

“We were off only two days out of every 30,” she said, due to the company policy known as “drafting.” “There wasn’t enough time to be with our families or see our children, and we knew that families would be torn apart if it kept up. And people were getting hurt because they were too tired. Back strains, hand lacerations, slips and falls were common. One injury is one injury too many.

“Making matters worse, if we spoke up, we were reminded that our jobs were voluntary and if we didn’t like how things were or if we were unhappy, we had the option to leave, as in QUIT,” she added. “This left several employees feeling unappreciated and it definitely sent us the message that management was unbothered by our feelings.”

Anita was also frustrated by minimal cost-of-living pay increases and rising health care costs. But then, a co-worker suggested they join Local 400. “When he approached me, I was excited about it, I wanted to know more about it,” she said. Before being hired by Lipton 11 years ago, Anita worked at the Newport News shipyard where she was a union member, so she knew what union representation could do for them.

Anita and her co-workers started meeting in a parking lot at a restaurant near the plant, and soon they met with Local 400 organizer Kayla Mock. “We felt that for the first time, someone was listening to us,” Anita recalled. “We took our union cards to work with us and spoke to our co-workers about why they should sign. Then, workers from other plants came down to stand with us.”

A pivotal moment in the campaign was when Anita and her co-workers spoke by telephone with Chicago Hellman’s workers, who are members of UFCW. Hellman’s and Lipton are both owned by Unilever, an international conglomerate. “We got to ask about their pay, benefits and working conditions. And we learned that what they have is much better than what we’ve gotten until now. As soon as we showed our co-workers the difference, cards started coming in left and right.”

Another key development happened in June 2016, when Lipton hired a new plant manager, who stopped the drafting policy. “This was a very good thing,” Anita said, “But we also saw clearly that our efforts to get a union were at least part of the reason why they decided to do this.”

In late July, the Lipton workers filed an application for a union election, and the date was set for August 26th—which also happens to be Anita’s birthday. Throughout election day, Anita recalled, “I was in the room with the judge representing the government. I wasn’t allowed to hold a conversation, but I couldn’t sit still, either. I was so anxious and so excited. Then, after the polls closed, as we tallied the vote and saw the yes votes pile up, I was literally screaming inside because I knew we had won. That night, it felt so good. We walked away knowing we finally had a voice. We let management know you can’t keep treating us any way you want, can’t keep taking away our benefits, can’t do drafting anymore.”

Anita and her coworkers wore “No Forced Overtime” stickers while negotiating their first union contract with Lipton.

In the wake of their remarkable victory, Lipton workers are now in the process of negotiating their first contract, and Anita is an alternate on the Bargaining Committee. While no outcome is guaranteed, she said she’d like to see “Better health coverage. Every year our health care costs go way up, but we’re only getting basic cost-of-living increases. We’re the driving force making Lipton money. The corporation says we’re doing well and always in the green. They should reward us for that. We don’t want to see forced overtime come back either.”

A resident of Chesapeake, Va., and the mother of two children and two stepchildren ranging in age from 19 to 27, Anita said that since she joined Local 400, “I am learning more and more about my workplace rights. I can ask a co-worker to be present at a meeting. And management can’t put something in my personnel file without them notifying me—something they did all the time before.

“Being a Local 400 member means I don’t have to take everything the company says or does to me,” she said. “I don’t have to sit back and let them treat me any way they want. I can go to management and voice my opinion and even if they try to turn a deaf ear, someone is there to listen and to act.”