Saturday, November 19, 2011

UFCW rank and filers demand an answer from officials on pensions and cuts

UFCW officials sleeping with the enemy
Bob Piccinini is the chairman and main shareholder of Save-Mart supermarkets. The two Union officials who are telling their members to tighten their belts and that we have to have "shared sacrifice" are presenting him with their 2009 person of the year award.  Not a union member, a shop steward, a fighter for workers' right but the boss. It is disgusting to look at it and these leaders have to be thrown out. A pat answer from $155,000 a year Ron Lind on the right to those that inquire as to why the cuts is "It is  what it is".

I went with some grocery workers, members of the UFCW yesterday to an office of their trust fund that manages their retirement system. I met these workers after some of them attended the successful general strike and mass rally organized by Occupy Oakland on November 2nd.

These brothers and sisters were mainly older workers near retirement who are concerned about their retirement benefits.  They have received a communication from the Trust Fund that was extremely difficult to understand.  Changes were going to be made to their pensions but there was no clear explanation.  One paragraph informed the workers that if they retired between May 1 2010 and December 1st 2011 they would receive a separate communication explaining rules that would affect them but that these rules have not been published as of yet and they would receive them with their first retirement check. How can someone make a decision about retirement when rules that might affect such a decision would only be made available after they have already made the decision to retire? Some workers only received the communication 6 weeks before the deadline to retire at the end of this month.

So we went up to the Trust Fund office where Union officials were meeting with management in contract negotiations.  The contract expired in October but has been extended.  As is usually the case, the top officials and the paid staff, many of whom champion the Occupy Wall Street movement and its struggle for justice and democracy, tell the folks whose dues pay their normally exorbitant salaries nothing about what is going on at the table.

We got up to the office on the tenth floor and the UFCW members asked to speak to Ron Lind UFCW Local 5’s president.  Lind earns $155,000 a year and from what we understand draws two pensions. We were told he wasn’t there which was hard to believe as negotiations were taking place at the time.  Instead, John Nunes, who is the director of collective bargaining for the local came down.  He was friendly for about 30 seconds reminding us that he was from the  “rank and file” and that he has been arrested at anti-war demos.  Then as the actual rank and file members started asking him questions about their pensions he became more and more uncomfortable.

His first response to a question was that “Unfortunately, attorney’s draft that stuff so I’m sure it’s confusing to people.”  He was asked about the golden 85 rule which is a combination of age and years that allows a person to retire with certain benefits. The members wanted to know if this could change if they chose to retire. This paid official, a director of collective bargaining, admitted that there is language in the communication that might be “distasteful

Another point of concern was the spousal benefit.  One worker described how he pays $200 a paycheck for a survivor benefit that guarantees his wife receives 50% of his pension on his death.  However, what has not been made clear to them is that should his wife die before he does, the trust find will take that money out of his check for the rest of his life.

The official blamed Congress and then the workers themselves for not going to meetings. Where the “experts and professionals” explained everything.  He suggested they contact their Congressman about it as well. But the Union officials are all tied in with these Democratic politicians, the very same folks who are savaging public sector jobs and services and attacking pensions.  They are doing this with the Union leaderships’ support. During the 2003 Southern California grocery strike Ron Lind, the Union president and chief negotiator told the bosses through the mass media that they were being too aggressive, that they want to make cuts “with a chainsaw” while he would apply “a scalpel” to his members wages and benefits.

The collective bargaining director who claimed he had no answers to his member’s questions had enough, turned his back and headed for the elevator.  Before the rest of us knew it, a 33-year employee followed him demanding he give answers.  The official went in to the elevator and the rank and filer followed him. The rest of us were caught off guard but headed in to the elevator as well.  So the official found himself in a Union full-timer’s hell, stuck in an elevator with his members.  He couldn’t escape and became even more frustrated.

“How do you expect me to make a decision about retiring in six weeks when I don’t know what will happen and even you don’t know?” he was asked again.  Earlier he had been asked about the paragraph on page 8 of the communication from the Trust Fund that said if they retired they would receive an explanation of rule changes with their first check---- after they made this life changing decision.  He hadn't s clue and it was clear he'd never read it.  Workers lose their jobs with the acquiescence of the Labor heads for such shoddy work.

The elevator appeared stuck.  He thought we had “fixed” it but we hadn’t He was just nervous and was pressing buttons here and there and eventually got the elevator to rescue him and remove him from the this awful situation----having to explain things to his members-----the folks who pay the dues.

While the attendance was small there is no doubt that this is causing some concern.  There is nothing the overpaid officials atop organized Labor fear more than conscious members beginning to stir and get active, but not in the way they want.  The leadership is determined to maintain Labor peace at the expense of their members’ living standards. They are wed to the Team Concept, the view that workers and bosses have the same interests. The UFCW's Western States Council chose Bob Piccinini, chairman and majority shareholder of Save Mart Supermarkets as its 2009 Person of the Year.

As is usually the case this UFCW official said that we have to have “shared sacrifice”. This is his justification for capitulating to the bosses’ offensive against workers. His attempt to blame the Democrats is as bad as the Labor hierarchy is all tied in with the Democrats. Ron Lind is close to Alberto Torrico the former California State Assemblyman who has made it clear he is not opposed to pension reform in the public sector that is way behind the private in introducing private plans. They are friends on Facebook.

"I'm not against pension reform," Alberto Torrico, has said as chairman of the California State Assembly's pension committee. "But there are other things we can do to reduce costs, like cracking down on unnecessary disability payments." This is the standard line for the Democrats; a few more crumbs from the one percent’s table than the Republicans. In cities, state and national politics, Democrats have gone along with the savaging of US workers livings standards.

These rank and file UFCW members have called themselves the Grocery workers 99% club and have had a couple of meetings to discuss how to continue in their efforts to take control of their Union and make it fight for them as opposed to helping the employers.  This action yesterday was small but spirited and it is always a good thing to let your elected officials know you are angry and intend to do something about it.  Most importantly, it was the first time these members had done anything like this and they learned a lot from it.  It was uplifting to put the officials on the spot for a change. As workers we are always told we are not smart and that we always have to have experts do things for us.  Obviously, we need experts in all sorts of fields but we know what we need and we have to make that decision to get involved, demand what we want and develop the best strategy for winning it.

The Grocery Workers’ 99% Cub can be reached at:

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