UFCW stands with the Teamsters. Workers from Giant and Martin's attended the Ahold shareholder meeting to share their stories along with representatives from CIW and the Teamsters. Photo by Christina Hajagos-Clausen

The red carpet was rolled out for those who attended Royal Ahold’s shareholder meeting yesterday. The Dutch union, FNV Bondgenoten, United Food and Commercial Workers and their allies gave shareholders the royal treatment as they arrived. After handing them a goody bag, complete with golden crown and a flier that read, “Be Responsible Royal Ahold, Respect Workers’ Rights,” two Royal Stewards escorted them inside to the meeting.

Inside, three Ahold workers from Virginia shared their  stories and experiences, making it clear to Ahold’s shareholders and management that employees in the company’s Martin’s stores in Richmond, Va. are being subjected to unfair treatment. They demanded that management stop retaliating against workers for trying to exercise the very same right to collective bargaining that Ahold grants to other employees in the U.S. and Europe.

Shaquana Battle, an employee from a Richmond Martin’s, asked a question about Ahold’s “royal pledge” to its employees that all workers are able to form and join a trade union of their own choice without fear of intimidation.

“Union organizers are not allowed inside the stores to help us to organize a union,”  Battle told the shareholder meeting. “Being that it’s in the pledge of the company that you not interfere, I was wondering why, in my company, are they having anti-union meetings?”

Ahold’s response tip-toed around her question, claiming they “couldn’t quite follow her question clearly,” but offered a general response. According to the chairman, the company will not prevent the employees from seeking representation in accordance with their rights under the applicable law of the state and the nation. He said it is not the company’s policy to interfere in the application of those laws.

Yet at Battle’s workplace, management has been holding mandatory anti-union meetings and handing out anti-union literature to workers, instilling fear.

“Why are workers in the United States still subject to the management scare tactics and harassment, because they just want to make their lives better?” asked Waqas Ahmad.

Ahmad and Kayla Mock, both Ahold workers from Giant-Landover and UFCW Local 400 members, have been in Richmond talking to Martin’s workers and educating them about the benefits of having a union. Ahmad and Mock were escorted out of a Martin’s by police after the store manager got the OK from the Ahold Corporation to do so.

Again, the Ahold panel avoided Ahmad’s pressing question.

“Yes, management was rattled—the members were all fantastic, they didn’t let up said Bill Dempsey, director of the Capital Stewardship Program for UFCW. “There was lots of pressure being in the setting with everyone speaking Dutch.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Coalition of Immokalee Workers approached the microphone to share their concerns with the panel. A representative from the Teamsters spoke about the Giant distribution center in Jessup, Md., that is being shut down by Ahold as part of a switch to a non-union facility just 10 kilometers up the road. This closure is costing over 450 people to lose their jobs. This, coming from a company that claims its workers are the face of Ahold and the key to success of the business. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), based in Florida, said that if Ahold paid just one penny more per pound of tomatoes they would have the chance to improve working conditions and wages of farm laborers in the fields.

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