Richmond Review

New charges levied over union pickets

by Thomas K. Pendergast

Another person has come forward to accuse Local 648 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union International of hiring non-union people at minimum wage to picket a chain of markets in San Francisco because they employ non-union workers.
The source, who wants to remain anonymous for fear of what he calls union “thugs,” says the union is doing the very thing it claims to be picketing against, using non-union labor, and that it regularly does things that most businesses do not.
According to the source, Local 648 uses “scabs” to picket three Fresh & Easy markets in San Francisco, including the one at 32nd Avenue and Clement Street.
The union accuses Fresh & Easy of not giving its employees paid time off or “holiday entitlement,” starting their employees out at minimum wage, and not guaranteeing their employees at least 20 hours of work per week.
Local 648 represents retail clerks throughout the City in markets such as Safeway, Luckys and Mollie Stone’s.
Four sources, all requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals, have confirmed the union’s modus operandi. Two former picketers have already been fired, allegedly after disputes with their boss, picket captain Edward Al-Ghani.
Al-Ghani refused to comment for this story, saying he preferred all questions about it be referred to Local 648 President Michael Sharpe. Numerous messages left for Sharpe seeking comment were not returned.
A tax document filed by Local 648 with the Internal Revenue Service lists “strike and picket expenses” for 2011 at $190,573. It also shows that union’s total revenues at $2,343,619. This figure includes income from membership dues at $2,051,102.
President Sharpe’s salary is listed at $96,900. The compensation of current officers, directors, trustees and employees is listed at $563,108.
The people walking the picket lines in front of Fresh & Easy are not union members. They are paid minimum wage; are offered health benefits only if they want to contribute a portion of the cost from their paychecks; are only allowed part-time hours, with a maximum of 20 hours per week; are not given any special pay or bonuses for working holidays; and are not compensated for transportation expenses getting to and from picketing sites.
The new source says the scheduling of the picketers is sometimes manipulated to punish those who displease the union boss, by giving the workers even less time on the line than 20 hours, moving them around to job sites that are more difficult for them to get to, or even terminating their employment altogether without “just cause.”
“The way they treat people on the picket line is terrible,” says the source. “At a certain point I had to ask myself: Why am I standing here protesting these people and I’m getting treated the same way?”
This person also says that when hired the union did not visually verify the new employee’s identification, Social Security card or otherwise check to make sure of the picketer’s right to legally work in the United States.
“They let people just text (Social Security) numbers in,” says the latest source. “It opens up the window for illegal aliens.”
The source claims to have worked on the picket line for several months and after calling in sick, was promptly fired without written notice.
The common practice for picketing non-union stores is to use union members from other stores to do it, paying them their usual wages and with their normal benefits.
Evan Yeats, a spokesperson for the national Labor Council, which includes the UFCW International Union, says that hiring non-union members to stock picket lines is not a recommended practice but it is also not against any particular union rules. He says that it has happened before.
“They’re not specific rules. Local unions have a pretty wide latitude in how they conduct their business,” says Yeats. “There are specific rules but not pertaining to this. It’s a matter of strategy. It’s a matter of them making the decisions that are best for their members.

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