Ahold Chairman receives push back from Ahold Shareholders on lack of Respect for US Visitors

Shaquana Battle, Tracey Barrentine and Michele Hepner outside Dutch union, FNV Bondgenoten, headquarters in Utrecht. Photo by Karlyn Williams.

Three Ahold workers from Virginia visited Amsterdam, Netherlands, to share their stories at the Dutch company’s annual general meeting Tuesday April 17, 2012. They alerted shareholders that Ahold’s operations in the United States is failing to live up to the professed high standards set by its Dutch parent company. In October 2010, Royal Ahold pledged to implement the United Nations Global Compact throughout its operations. This requires management to respect workers’ basic rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining without interference. The workers from Ahold’s Giant Carlisle division made clear to shareholders that Ahold is violating this pledge.

Before the meeting began, Dutch grocery employees from Albert Heijn along with Ahold US workers set up a photo exhibition outside the meeting. This exhibition included 16 worker’s photos from various divisions of the company. On the five feet by five feet photos a quote from the worker was included to reflect how he or she felt intimidated and harassed by the managers in their workplaces.

Inside the meeting Tracey Barrentine, a Giant-Carlisle employee addressed Chairman Rene Dahan, CEO Dick Boer and the rest of Ahold’s supervisory board about her concerns in Ahold’s anti-union campaign against her and other workers in her store.

“I was working hard in our bakery, our store manager distracted me from doing my work and serving customers and rather than allowing me to do my job and add value to shareholders, he insisted I look at a letter from Rick Herring, president of Giant Carlisle,” said Barrentine. “Have you seen his letter about the alleged evils of unions? It’s a shameful letter. I’m appalled that our money and time are being misused to send intimidating letters filled with lies about unions. It’s wrong. He said we could lose our jobs because of the union.

“Mr. Chairman, do you think we should lose our jobs because we support the union?”

Ahold Chairman, Rene Dahan responded to Barrentine’s question in a brash tone, questioning the validity of her experience.

This was Shaquana Battle’s second year attending the meeting. As a Martin’s worker, she receives anti-union letters at work and at her home. She addressed the board about the fear that exists not only in the stores but her own grandmother.

“My grandmother works for Giant Carlisle too and has worked there for over 10 years. I’m her first grandchild and we have a very close relationship, but she will not talk to me about the union,” said Battle. “She is afraid her manager will cut her hours, transfer her to another store or even fire her if she shows any support for the union.

“That’s the kind of environment Giant Carlisle managers have created and it’s harmful to our company.”

Throughout the meeting Chairman Dahan continued to rudely respond and “reject any accusations” that workers in the Giant Carlisle branch are being harassed or intimidated. Battle reminded Dahan that she is referring to her and her grandmother’s actual experiences.

UFCW Local 400 member and Giant Food employee took the mic at the Ahold meeting to share her experiences when she visited her Ahold coworkers in Richmond, Va. Photo by Jantien Oving.

Approximately 70,000 Ahold workers in the United States—about 65% of the company’s U.S. workforce—have exercised their right to form a union and have opted for union representation with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. But for 30,000 workers under the company’s Martin’s/Giant Carlisle banner, the reality is one of a company actively campaigning to prevent workers from exercising the same fundamental rights that many of their U.S. and Dutch counterparts enjoy.

Stafford, Va. resident and UFCW Local 400 member, Michele Hepner has worked for Giant Landover, the union division of Ahold, for 37 years and when she went down to Richmond herself she experienced Giant Carlisle management’s harassment first-hand.

“I wanted to have a calm, rational discussion with my coworkers about their workplace rights, but instead I was treated like a criminal,” said Hepner addressing the Ahold board. “One manager told me that I wasn’t an employee that I was an actress pretending to be a Giant employee.”

CEO Dick Boer with the Ahold USA workers. Photo by Jantien Oving.

Unsatisfied with how Chairman Dahan responded to the questions raised regarding US labor relations and the treatment of US workers, several shareholders asked for more transparency and commented on the negative tone in which he addressed the workers who came 4,000 miles to attend the meeting.

“I think you should speak with more respect about people that have traveled from the states in order to express their concerns,” said one of the shareholders. “You can’t just say that you shouldn’t have the trip. I think it’s quite right that they made the trip.”

After the meeting concluded, Barrentine, Battle and Hepner met and shook hands with CEO Dick Boer as well as hand delivered a collection of anti-union letters they’ve received as well as letters they’ve sent to management requesting a meeting to have a rational discussion about Giant Carlisle employees’ workplace rights.