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Kentucky Couple’s ‘Ride for Respect’ at Walmart

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berry craigJames and Trina Vetato knew about the freedom riders from history books.

This week, the Paducah, Ky., couple expects to join a civil rights movement-style protest against the world’s largest retailer. The Vetatos are activists in the employees’ group Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart for short. Trina currently works at a Walmart store and James is a former Walmart employee.

Called the “Ride for Respect,” the demonstration at Walmart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., will be modeled on civil rights volunteers who rode buses into the South in the 1960s to protest Jim Crow racial injustice, says James Vetato.

Busloads of OUR Walmart members will converge on Bentonville from across the country. They will be in town for the annual shareholders’ meeting June 7. Vetato says he expects 300 or more OUR Walmart members to begin arriving the week before the meeting. Most of the protesters—including Trina Vetato—will be taking part in an unfair labor practice strike, says her husband.

The protest will go on the whole week before the meeting. We especially want to draw national attention to Walmart management’s threats and retaliation against workers who speak up for better pay, more hours and respect on the job.

Vetato worked at his wife’s store in Paducah. When he stood up for his rights, he says:

I was threatened and intimidated by management who made my life so miserable I finally quit.

Our Walmart wants better pay, benefits and working conditions. “Like the freedom riders, we will be standing up for dignity and respect and justice and will be protesting peacefully,” Vetato says.

OUR Walmart isn’t a union, but the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) is helping the group, says Vetato.

Some other unions are in OUR Walmart’s corner, too. The Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council unanimously passed a resolution expressing its solidarity with the workers’ struggle at Walmart.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on June 2, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Berry Craig is the recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.  He is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.

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Union-Made Treats for Halloween

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It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means: buying tons of candy.

But why give your money to a company that treats its workers like Oompa-Loompas? They were slaves who got paid in beans, remember! (Don’t be fooled by their catchy songs; that’s just a show they put on for the boss. You should hear the things they say about him in the break room.)

UnionPlus has a great list of yummies made by members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). Among them are:

  • Hershey’s Kisses
  • Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars
  • Kit Kat Bars
  • Caramello
  • Cadbury Fruit & Nut Bar
  • Jelly Bellies
  • Red Vines
  • Jawbreakers
  • NECCO Wafers
  • Clark Bar
  • Ghirardelli squares
  • Baby Ruth
  • Butterfinger

(Note that some of these are made both in union shops in the U.S.A. and non-union shops in Mexico; the list has details on which ones you’ll want to check the country of origin labels on.)

It’s perfect for printing out and taking with you on your big candy run. So what are you waiting for? Get the list here.

This post originally appeared in Change to Win on October 27, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author Jason Lefkowitz: is the Online Campaigns Organizer for Change to Win, a partnership of seven unions and six million workers united together to restore the American Dream for everybody. He built his first Web site in 1995 and has been building online communities professionally since 1998. To read more of his work, visit the Change to Win blog, CtW Connect, at http://www.changetowin.org/connect.

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Victory at Smithfield: An Independance Day Symbol

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One of the ugliest fights for worker justice has taken place in Tar Heel, North Carolina, which is about 80 miles south of Raleigh. For 17 years, thousands of workers, who labor under some pretty brutal conditions in the largest pork processing plant, have sought a modicum of justice and dignity. And they just got it.

After a two-day vote, the workers approved the first-ever union contract at the Smithfield Foods plant. Here are the details via the United Food & Commercial Workers:

The new contract includes:

* Wage increases of $1.50/hour over the next four years. * Continued company-provided affordable family health care coverage. * Improved paid sick leave and vacation benefits. * Retirement security through protection of the existing pension plan. * Continued joint worker/management safety committee, including company funded safety training for workers. * Guaranteed weekly hours that protect full-time, family supporting jobs in the community * A system to resolve workplace issues. * Three working days of paid funeral leave following the death of immediate family members.

“This contract will completely transform our workplace,” said Orlando Williams. “This is the biggest four-year wage increase Smithfield workers have ever had and it will make a real difference for our families and in this community. We could never have gotten that increase without a chance to bargain with the company. We will finally have a sense of security on the job because through our union we can make sure we have a safe place to work, and that everyone’s treated fairly.”

The first thing to note is that the UFCW deserves a lot of credit. It stuck with this organizing campaign over 17 years through, among other things, a racketeering suit Smithfield filed against the union because of a very persistent corporate campaign waged by the union. In two previous union representation elections, the company brutally harassed the workers, and in particular, the union supporters, to the point that the National Labor Relations tossed out the results of the elections. Finally, last December, the union won overwhelmingly in an election that was more fair then anything in the past.

Which brings us to this point: when workers have a chance to vote for a union–free of intimidation and threats–they will do so. And certainly one step in that direction will come with the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The point that I think is valuable to remember is this one:

Workers and union officials say that perhaps the most important change is that workers will be allowed to voice concerns and challenge management decisions through a formal grievance process. In the past, many workers have said they were treated disrespectfully by their supervisors and fired after speaking out or being injured.

“We really did accomplish something with this union,” said Mattie Fulcher, a 10-year employee who helps usher pigs to their deaths. “We might not have gotten the raise that we wanted, but that will come in time. This is our first contract, and it is a start.”

Too often, in the public sphere, and among the talking heads, the focus on union jobs is about wages and benefits. No doubt, that is important. But, what the workers at Smithfield gained was some POWER over how they will be treated.

Independence Day is about a lot of symbols–patriotism, flag-waving and I suppose mostly, now, a long weekend at the beach. But, it is also about gaining power and the triumph over tyranny. It is always ironic and sad to me that, too often, we assert that triumph by showcasing the very instruments of power that we now use to the detriment of other people around the world.

But, I forget that when I sit back and think, for a moment, what these workers went through–the struggle, the fight, the commitment that held them together over so many dark days–this is the America that inspires me. They have triumphed over tyranny, they have gained back the power they deserve to shape their lives. That’s what Independence Day means to me.

Jonathan Tasini: Jonathan Tasini is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.

This article originally appeared on Working Life on July 3, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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