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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.”

Congratulations to ABC Drawing Winner, Tracey Anne Goroza

Active Ballot Club drawing winner, Tracey Anne Goroza (left), poses for a photo with her Local 400 union rep, Johnnie Perry.

Local 400 member Tracey Anne Goroza from Safeway #1300 in McLean, Va. is the most recent winner of our Active Ballot Club drawing! Congratulations, Tracey!

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!

Member Spotlight: Taralyn Pike Brings Happiness to the Workplace

Taralyn Pike (right) poses for a photo with fellow contract action team member, John Ruiz (left), after speaking at a Fight For $15 rally in Richmond in November.

In her five years working at Giant, Taralyn Pike loved what her union did for her, but grew frustrated by what she saw as “a great deal of unhappiness at my store.” So she decided to do something about it.

Approximately five months ago, she stepped up to become a shop steward at Giant #748, where she works as a clerk. And she went beyond that, becoming an activist who played a central role in mobilizing members around the recent round of contract negotiations with Giant, and in fighting for a higher minimum wage in Virginia.

“I wanted to put myself in a position to bring some happiness into the workplace,” Taralyn said. “Who wants to work in a place where it seems everyone’s out to get you and you don’t feel secure? But now, I feel like my store is a place where we can be happy. The manager and I work together to make sure everyone is on the same page. My team members know they have a shoulder to lean on as well as to cry on.

“As a steward,” she added, “I now have a better understanding about employee rights and how things work. And I’m a better listener than I was before.”

Taralyn attended Local 400 trainings for shop stewards and activists, and soon joined the Contract Action Team around the Giant and Safeway negotiations.

“The whole experience was great,” she said. “I got to see a totally different side of Giant—the side where we come together as a group to be our brothers’ and sisters’ support system. We went around to different stores, sat down with every employee, listened to their concerns, fixed some issues, and explained how we ARE the union. We came together as a whole and showed everyone that we were here and we weren’t going to budge until Giant and Safeway workers got what we deserve.”

Taralyn and the other Contract Action Team members petitioned outside stores, got employees and customers to sign, and gained community support. Then, when Giant refused to budge in bargaining, they picketed. And the end result was a strong collective bargaining agreement.

“I feel like it turned out great,” Taralyn said. “Solidarity did the job. We got a great contract. It wasn’t perfect, but we didn’t lose anything and we gained something.

“There’s still more work to be done,” she said. “and now we’re working toward what we need to do to get the change we need in the future.”

Recently, Taralyn also traveled to Richmond to join the fight for a $15 minimum wage in Virginia. She met with other Local 400 members and unorganized workers in the fast food and retail industries, and spoke on a panel about why all workers should be paid enough to live above the poverty level. “It was very informative,” she said. “I was honored to be able to tell my story and encourage everyone to stay united in solidarity.”

Looking to the future, Taralyn said, “I want each and every union worker to go throughout their career and job feeling appreciated for the hard work that they do. I want to educate and advocate as much as I can. Wherever God takes me at this point, I’m on board.”

A resident of Arlington and the mother of nine- and 12-year old boys, Taralyn said, “Being a union member means so much. It means we are not alone. There are always people to help you; always someone you can call. And there are ways to get involved outside the store. I can testify that stepping up is always worth it.”

Jibril Wallace: Fighting for Paid Leave

Jibril Wallace has been working at the same Safeway in Washington, D.C. for 28 years, since she was a teenager helping her mother pay the bills. Now her income helps support her two children, ages 18 and 8. Through the years, Jibril moved up from courtesy clerk to food clerk to file maintenance manager, overseeing pricing and tagging. And for much of that time, she had no paid sick days.

“When you were sick, or the kids were sick, you went to work,” Jibril said. “You found a relative who worked in government and had sick leave if you could. Or I’d do the overnight shift and their dad would stay with them, and I’d be there during the day.”

When asked how she managed being sick herself, Jibril said, “I’m not quite sure what that is—you still had to go to work.” For a long time she could get only part-time hours—and part-timers had to be out three days before being paid for any illness. “Your body is giving you a sign that you need to rest,” she explained. “But you’d just medicate yourself, go in and pray you’ll feel better. I had to support myself.”

Jibril described the reckoning she’d go through, imagining the loss of eight hours pay. “I’d already be thinking to next Thursday, what did I have to be planning for financially,” she said. Because hours can fluctuate so much, many employees have to arrange before and after-school care.  Eight hours represents the weekly payment for that care.

But since the District of Columbia’s paid sick days law was expanded to include part-time workers, Jibril has a new peace of mind. “It’s very relieving to know if your kid or you yourself are sick, there will still hours on your check,” she said.

As a Local 400 leader and activist, Jibril makes sure to stay informed and to keep her co-workers informed about their rights. “Management is not going to tell you,” she said. “They tried to play around with it, but it got big, you’d hear it on the news.”

When a manager tried to deny one employee his sick time, Jibril straightened him out. “It’s not coming out of your pocket,” she told him. “It’s the law now.” Jibril is also alerting Safeway workers in Montgomery County, where a strong, comprehensive paid sick days law is now in effect.

Still, workers often aren’t aware of their rights. Jibril described a night stocker who got an infection after having a tooth pulled. “She sent me a picture of how swollen her face was and said she’d been told not to call out.” Jibril told her to take paid sick days. The woman was able to heal and come back to work.

“It’s awesome to know you have that cushion,” Jibril said, “especially when you’re part time. Everybody gets sick, or has a parent or kid who’s sick. This really helps out.”

Original post by Family Values At Work

Member Spotlight: Rick Howell, Union Through And Through

Rick Howell, a nine-year Kroger associate from Roanoke and member of the 2016 contract bargaining team, addresses his fellow UFCW members at a recent contract vote in May.

Rick Howell, a nine-year Kroger associate from Roanoke and member of the 2016 contract bargaining team, addresses his fellow UFCW members at a recent contract vote in May.

When Rick Howell started working at Kroger nine years ago, no one had to tell him why he should join Local 400. Rick’s father worked at Rubatex in Bedford, Va., where he was a proud member of the United Rubber Workers (now part of the United Steelworkers). “He took me to union meetings when I was eight or nine years old,” Rick said of his father. “Even though I didn’t understand everything they were saying, I could tell this was serious business. It really made an impression on me.

“Working people built this country,” Rick said. “I saw my father struggle to support his family on one salary, but back in the ‘60s, with a union contract, you could do that. Today, the middle class in this country has just about been destroyed. That’s one of the tragedies of modern America and only organized labor can fix that.”

A cashier, front-end supervisor, and shop steward at Kroger #375 in Roanoke—and a board member of the Western Virginia Labor Federation—Rick’s strong union perspective served his union well in the just-completed round of bargaining with the company, which was the most contentious in decades.

“I think management showed some ignorance about how the working class in America lives,” he explained. “They make good salaries and they’re sitting across the table from people making $9, $10, $11 an hour. The income gap at Kroger reflects the larger gap in America between corporate CEOs and workers which has only ballooned in recent decades. All we asked them to do is put themselves in our shoes, but they didn’t seem to be able to do that.”

As a member of the Kroger Bargaining Team, Rick strongly supported the May 18th strike authorization vote as critical to getting the collective bargaining agreement that was ratified on June 8th. “We weren’t satisfied some of the specifics in the deal, but overall, we stood up to them and got a better offer,” he said. “It was a hard-fought process, and we had to make tough decisions, but in the end we got the best deal available. It’s something to build on.”

“I was glad to be a part of the committee, and I’m glad we have a contract, after long bargaining hours and hard work,” Rick added.

Rick brought to his work on the Bargaining Team several other unique perspectives—a career as a journalist and decades of work as a political activist. Before joining Kroger, he worked as a reporter and political columnist in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia for 12 years. He currently writes a regular column, “The Liberal Agenda,” for the Bedford Bulletin, giving him a perch from which he discusses the plight of working families and what politicians are—or are not—doing to make life better. For example, in a column last fall on where candidates stood on raising the minimum wage, he wrote, “When people make more money, they spend it, and spending helps the economy. It allows working people to live better, and it spurs economic growth that later creates more jobs. It certainly does not ‘destroy’ the free market system.”

Rick also takes a leadership role electing pro-worker candidates to public office, with direct involvement in the Virginia AFL-CIO’s get-out-the-vote drive each year. “Labor’s political operation is so much more effective than that of the Democratic Party,” he said. “As someone whose first political efforts involved stuffing envelopes for Jimmy Carter in 1976, I’ve never had more fun or seen better results than with the labor GOTV effort.

“I’m grateful to Local 400 for giving me this opportunity every campaign season,” he added, “along with the chance to be a leader in my store and to help people who really need help.”

A Roanoke resident and father of a 20-year-old son, Rick is a role model of member activism, and a strong advocate for it, too. “You know the old saying about how most of life is just showing up?” he said. “We’d gain a lot just by having more members show up at meetings, and be engaged in their union all the time, not only when there’s a crisis.

“What I enjoy is being the face of our union in the store,” Rick said. “I wear my Local 400 button every day and people know they can come to me with any questions. I seek out new employees, whether I’ve been introduced to them or not, and talk to them about their union. The greatest calling is to help people, and knowing I can do that helps me sleep well at night.”

Lucky Member Wins Active Ballot Club Drawing

Evan Baldacci, from Kroger 375 in Roanoke, VA, showing off his prize after winning the monthly Active Ballot Club drawing.

Evan Baldacci, from Kroger 375 in Roanoke, VA, showing off his prize after winning the monthly Active Ballot Club drawing.

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.

By joining the Active Ballot Club, Local 400 members are automatically entered into a monthly drawing for a chance to win a prize.

This month’s winner is Evan Baldacci from Kroger 375 in Roanoke, VA.

“The reason why I joined the was solidarity and voice of reason,” explained Evan when presented with his prize. “The reason for active ballot club is for movement in the political field.”

Learn more about the UFCW Active Ballot Club and talk to your rep about signing up today!

Bertha McKiver: Helping Her Sisters and Brothers

20160307-Bertha-McKiverLong before she became a shop steward, Bertha McKiver was helping her Local 400 sisters and brothers. Currently the bakery manager at Giant #783 in Burke, Va., Bertha spent many of her 24 years at the company helping to solve her co-workers’ problems. Whether they had issues with their health care coverage or a conflict with a supervisor, Bertha had the answers to their questions and good advice to give.

So it was only natural—even inevitable—that she was asked to become a steward in 2007, a job she has been performing brilliantly ever since. In fact, she is so effective that Local 400 members from other stores often come to her with questions and seeking guidance.

“I love helping people,” Bertha said. “I believe strongly in making sure everybody’s treated fairly, and it’s very gratifying every time I can help achieve this goal. It gives me joy to see the smile on someone’s face when they get justice.”

Bertha also makes it a priority to sign up members at her store and others. “I tell new hires that their opinion counts every bit as much as anyone else’s,” she said. “But if they want their opinion to count, they need to become members and they need to be involved. They also get discounts, deals on cell phones, help buying a new car and other useful services.”

During the 2013 round of bargaining, Bertha participated in contract campaign actions, handing out flyers and talking to customers in front of her store and others. She hopes to be even more involved in the next round of bargaining, which will take place this fall. “I’m going to be out there telling people what’s going on and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to protect our health and pension benefits, increase wages, and reduce the high turnover among younger workers.”

Bertha is similarly active in other Local 400 activities. She has participated in actions at area Walmart stores, and rallies on issues ranging from food stamps to immigration.

A proud mother and grandmother who lives in Woodbridge, Va., Bertha has a special appreciation for what it’s like to be represented by a union. “I’ve worked at a franchise where there was no union,” she said. “The things management did could never have happened at Giant and there was no way for me to do anything about it. It was like night and day

“Being a Local 400 member has had such a big impact on me,” Bertha said. “It enables me to help people and that’s what I love doing.”