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UFCW bosses quibble on constitutional language as member claims union is “playing games with our lives…”

Amidst the worst recession in a generation, members of the United Food & Commercial Workers are upset with their union for, of all things, not allowing them to walk off their jobs.

In Colorado, where UFCW Local 7 has been negotiating for more than six months with the grocery chains there, local union members have urged their parent union in Washington to give them permission to strike.

However, it seems that the UFCW bosses in Washington are reluctant to allow their members to go through another devastating strike like they did in southern California in 2003-04.

According to 9News.com:

Unionized Safeway workers in Colorado have voted to authorize a strike, but workers cannot walk out without permission from the UFCW international union.

UFCW Local 7 spokeswoman Laura Chapin told the Longmont Times-Call newspaper on October 2nd, “We do have strike sanction from the international, which is key”.

The international union tells 9Wants to Know investigative reporter Kyle Clark that such sanction is under consideration but has not been granted.

A letter from the international union to local branch on September 15th gives Colorado workers the ability to vote on a “final offer” from the supermarkets, but makes clear the local union “must receive final authorization” before beginning a strike.

Several union members tell 9Wants to Know that UFCW Local 7 President Ernie Duran Jr. told workers that strike sanction had been given.

According to a letter the local president sent to UFCW International President Joe Hansen, the international’s dragging of its feet appears to be wearing thin in Colorado, as the local presses its case to strike over the holidays.

As noted above, on June 19, 2009, you stated you would not let this process drag out and would facilitate securing a last, best and final offer. Almost five (5) months have lapsed since those words were written. Despite numerous bargaining sessions, attended by International Representatives, this has not been accomplished. Moreover, the workers and I have repeatedly asked the Corporations to submit their “last, best and final” offers. They have consistently refused to do so. More importantly, the Corporate Negotiators have made only minor changes in their proposals since April and have said they will reduce pension benefits. This will adversely affect workers until the day they die.

As I told you in June, time is of the essence. We have already lost many holidays. We simply cannot let Thanksgiving and Christmas pass us by. As you are well aware, January, February and March are the slowest months of the year. Further, the Corporations have scheduled an arbitration, wherein they are attempting to eliminate all adjustable benefits and future pension accruals, on December 16, 17 and, if necessary, 18. Finally, the winter in Colorado can be punishing.

I respectfully request you release the final strike sanction. I firmly believe the Corporations do not want a strike or lockout. If they know we can go out before the upcoming holidays, I believe they will bargain seriously and a settlement can be reached.

[Emphasis added.]

Meanwhile, UFCW member and former Safeway worker Arlys Carlson states on Local 7′s website:

“We were told by the International that we had sanction to move forward on the strike votes. After the workers voted to strike in order to get a fair contract, we were told at the Oct 20 negotiations session that the requirements had been met, that they had the results, and a decision could happen in a day or two….

The International needs to respect our votes and give us final sanction as soon as possible. We have delivered our part of the equation, and now the International needs to deliver theirs. The International is playing games with our lives, our futures and our families’ needs.”

To the UFCW, the slogan United We Bargain, Divided We Beg seems to have a special meaning–especially as UFCW members beg their own union for permission to go out on strike.

To read more about the UFCW, go here.

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Cross-posted on LaborUnionReport.

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