Union Organizing, Victories and Elections: Four Stories
(1) Poultry Workers in Alabama
(2) Kaplan ESL Teachers in New York
(3) Pizza Workers in Wisconsin
(4) Food Processing Workers in Wisconsin
NEWS FROM RWDSU
For Immediate Release: June 12, 2012
Media Contacts: Levi Nayman. 212.684.5300/917-209-8523
Dan Morris. 212.684.5300/917.547.8005
Workers Win RWDSU Representation for 1,200 at Pilgrim's
Pride Poultry At JBS-Owned facility, a Game-Changer for
the Labor Movement
Russellville, Alabama--Today the Retail, Wholesale and
Department Store Union (RWDSU), UFCW, announced that
1,200 poultry workers at the Pilgrim's Pride poultry
plant in Russellville, Alabama, voted overwhelmingly to
join the RWDSU. The vote was 706 to 292 in favor of the
union. Pilgrim's Pride is the American division of the
Brazilian- owned beef and poultry giant JBS, and is the
largest chicken producer in the United States.
The election marks one of the largest successful union
organizing campaigns in Alabama in the last decade in
terms of new members, in one of Alabama's largest
"Unions may be under attack across the country but
working people still desperately need the security and
dignity that comes with a union voice," said RWDSU
President Stuart Appelbaum. "The workers at Pilgrim's
Pride know they deserve better and have proven there is
a better way. This resounding vote will be heard by
poultry workers throughout the South as a message of
hope," Appelbaum added.
"The key issues at Pilgrim's Pride weren't wages and
benefits, they were the right to redress grievances at
work, and the ability to have some input into how the
place is run. They knew the difference it would make to
have a union on their side," said RWDSU Mid-South
Council President John Whitaker.
"We had no respect from management, and absolutely no
voice in anything that affected us," said Cheryl
Kowalski, who works in the sanitation department at the
"They told us what to do and when to do it, and there
were no questions allowed. And if there any problems,
you couldn't go to management because they did not want
to deal with resolving them, and workers here were left
bitter and angry. The bottom line was 'do what you are
told or you don't have a job.' But the union provided
us with a glimmer of hope," Kowalski added.
That "glimmer of hope" spread quickly at the plant, and
the company engaged in an all-out effort to destroy the
workers' support for joining the union. The company
held weeks of captive audience meetings where they
threatened massive layoffs and hinted at the
possibility of plant closure if the workers voted for
the union, and produced anti-union literature and "vote
no" t-shirts. In addition, the company put pressure on
local businesses like the service station where union
members were meeting to stop allowing union activists
inside, and threatened local hotels with boycotts if
they didn't throw union organizers out onto the
streets. The company also tried to book meeting rooms
at local hotels so the union couldn't use them in the
weeks leading up to the elections.
For employees like Sharon Hill, who works in poultry
production, a feeling of optimism began to grow despite
"Over several weeks, management held many meetings
encouraging us not to vote for the union. But about a
month into the organizing drive, I knew we were going
to win - I could see it in the employees' eyes. I
spoke with my co-workers a few days before the election
and knew they were going to vote yes. We finally had
hope in the plant that someone would help us," Hill
For workers at the plant, winning an RWDSU voice isn't
just changing their workplace, it is changing their
"This is a day in my life I will never forget and I am
proud of it," said Pilgrim's Pride worker - and new
RWDSU member - J.R. (Morris) Harris of the poultry
Fast facts on the poultry industry and its importance
to Alabama's economy:
*Poultry is Alabama's top commodity, comprising 68
percent of the state's total commodity receipts.
*Poultry represents nearly half of the state's exports.
*Poultry accounted for $385 billion of Alabama's
agricultural exports in 2010, 48 percent of the state's
total agricultural exports.
*The poultry industry contributes more than $10 billion
to the state economy and is the leading agricultural
revenue segment for the state.
*Alabama ranks third nationally in broiler production
and 14th in eggs
From Alabama Agriculture: A Guide to the State's Farms,
Food and Forestry as sponsored by the Alabama
Department of Agriculture & Industries (2012)
# # #
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
represents 100,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. The
RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial
Kaplan ESLTeachers Vote to Join New York Guild
Newspaper Guild of New York June 7, 2012
NEW YORK, June 7 - New York City-based teachers of
English as a second language at the Washington Post
Co.'s [NYSE: WPO] educational subsidiary, Kaplan Inc.,
voted today for workplace representation by the
Newspaper Guild of New York, becoming the company's
first employees to unionize.
In a government-supervised election, the teachers,
based at the three Manhattan facilities of Kaplan
International Centers, voted for the Guild by a 2-1
margin, despite an intense anti-union campaign by
management that included a steady stream of leaflets
and regular work-time meetings with managers and
outside consultants, all urging them to vote no.
"These are professional employees, many with masters
degrees, who are paid at an assortment of illogical
hourly rates as low as the $7.25 federal minimum wage,"
said Guild President Bill O'Meara. "They know they
should be treated better and they deserve a lot of
credit for maintaining their focus through Kaplan's
incredibly intense campaign."
"The National Labor Relations Board, which conducted
the election, is expected to certify the Guild as the
bargaining agent for the group of about 95 teachers
after seven days. No other Kaplan teachers in the
United States are union-represented. The results
require Kaplan to bargain in good faith with the Guild
for a contract covering the teachers' employment terms.
A group of the Kaplan ESL teachers approached the Guild
several months ago seeking help not only in raising
their pay, but in bringing some clarity to their
confusing compensation system and getting paid time off
for sickness and vacations, among other things.
"This is of course a great day for teachers at Kaplan,"
said Kaplan teacher Danny Valdes. "But I hope that this
shows teachers that we can increase standards
industry-wide by coming together to organize."
New York-based Kaplan Inc., with $2.5 billion in
revenues last year, was founded in 1938 by Stanley
Kaplan and provides higher education programs,
professional training courses, test preparation
materials and language instruction around the world.
The Newspaper Guild of New York, Local 31003 of the
Communications Workers of America, represents more than
2,800 employees at New York area-based media
organizations and their respective bureaus around the
nation. Its members also include non-media workers,
such as those on the staff of the Writers Guild of
America, East and at Hudson News Manhattan retail
"No Justice, No Piece": Pizza Company Accused of
Targeting Immigrant Strikers
By Josh Eidelson
In These Times
June 13, 2012
MILWAUKEE - Workers at Palermo's Pizza have been on
strike for two weeks. They say they chose to strike
after Palermo's met their efforts to form a union with
threats and retaliation, including the use of
immigration enforcement as a weapon. Slogans include
"No Justice, No Piece." On Monday, the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) set a union election for July 6.
"We want Palermo's to treat us as a person," striker
Orlando Sosa said as he picketed Palermo's Milwaukee
In interviews last week - some on a picket line, others
following a Get Out the Vote Rally led by Jesse Jackson
- Palermo's workers said the strike was caused by years
of abusive work conditions and weeks of anti-union
"From my point of view, there's been a lot of
exploitation," says Roberto Silva (he and other
Palermo's workers were interviewed in a mix of English
and Spanish). He described being forced to work 70 to
80 hours a week, even while sick, and being threatened
with job abandonment when he asked for a break. "You
have to work until you can't," says Silva.
Jose Ramirez sums up his life as "Just eat, sleep, and
work." In a video posted on the website The Uptake, a
worker described being told he had to work the day
after he was sent to the emergency room because his
fingernail was ripped off by a machine. For years, says
Alicia Garcia, workers would blame individual abusive
managers, and every time one left, "We would say the
next would be better." Now, she says, they blame
Palermo's employs nearly 300 workers, and its frozen
pizzas are sold by major chains, under multiple labels,
across the United States. The company did not respond
to a request for comment, but Director of Marketing
Chris Dresselhuys told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
that "The allegations that have been leveled against
Palermo's are categorically false." Dresselhuys said
that immigration enforcement was unrelated to
unionization, that some workers had "abandoned their
position" by striking, and that if workers win the
union election, "we will work it out."
Palermo's workers began organizing in 2008. Throughout
the campaign, they've worked closely with Voces de la
Frontera, an immigrant rights organization and low-wage
"Most of those workers are our members," says Voces
Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. "We
definitely have their back."
Last November, some Palermo's workers decided it was
time to form a union. "We just wanted a voice," says
Silva. "Simply that they listen."
A month later, workers presented management with a
petition addressing issues with safety and
discrimination. In April, workers and Voces staff met
with staff from the AFL-CIO and the United
Steelworkers. (Full disclosure: the USW is an In These
Palermo's workers say they were also inspired by the
past year's uprising at Wisconsin's Capitol in Madison.
"I hadn't seen that in years," says Daniel Camano.
"Every single advertisement you see for how other
people are fighting for the same reason," says Sosa,
"that inspires you to do the same, to work for your
rights...That helped us a lot."
In a letter to the NLRB, union attorney Richard Saks
noted that by last month, Palermo's was engaged in an
anti-union campaign: an anti-union poster went up, a
manager told a worker not to talk about working
conditions, Palermo's hired notorious anti-union firm
Jackson Lewis, and workers heard that the company would
require immigration authorization verification of its
On Sunday, May 27, workers decided to formally sign
their co-workers up to form a union. Two days later,
they submitted signatures to management and asked the
company to immediately recognize the union ("majority
sign-up"). The company refused. The same day, Palermo's
instructed employees to begin training replacement
workers from a temp agency, and gave employees a letter
stating that they had 28 days to verify their
authorization to be working in the United States. Some
workers went on strike that day.
"The company is retaliating," says Daniel Camano,
"using ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to be
able to get rid of all of us that have the most years
at the company." Camano, an employee for nine years,
says he was targeted and fired over alleged immigration
issues. "This is motivating us to get more involved in
"The company has used the issue of an ICE audit and the
process involved in that as a means to bust the union
organizing drive," says Neumann-Ortiz, "in addition to
other forms of retaliation."
On May 30, workers filed a petition with the NLRB
seeking an election to form an independent
(unaffiliated) union. According to Voces, a work
stoppage the previous day won a three-day hiatus on the
hiring of new replacements. But in a meeting with some
workers, Voces staff, politicians and clergy, Palermo's
announced that workers would have 10 days, rather than
28, for re-verification of their work authorization. In
response, more workers decided to strike the next day.
By then, Silva says, "We were organized...We were
That led to a dramatic confrontation on June 1. Workers
had planned to mass outside the factory, with those
whose shifts ended at 8 AM streaming out of work to
meet those already picketing. Having heard about this
plan, workers say, Palermo's barred employees from
leaving the building, physically blocking the doors and
telling workers they would be fired if they left. Some
workers escaped through emergency exits, while others
contacted Voces, who called the police. Police
collected testimony when they arrived.
The same day, Sacks filed charges of illegal anti-union
retaliation with the NLRB, and requested a federal
court injunction to force a quick resolution prior to
next month's election. On June 2, according to
Neumann-Ortiz, Palermo's sent the first of multiple
waves of letters terminating some strikers.
"People have been explicitly told they're being fired
for participating in the strike," Neumann-Ortiz says.
She says some letters told workers they were being
fired for participating in a legally unprotected work
stoppage, others told temp workers they were being cut
off for participating, and others took the form of
"resignation" letters written on behalf of striking
The most recent termination letters, dated June 8, told
workers they were being terminated for failure to
comply with the 10-day immigration verification
deadline announced May 30. Voces alleges that Palermo's
created the 10-day deadline to break the union, and
falsely pinned it on ICE. Neumann-Ortiz says that the
company "claimed that they were just abiding by this
new mandate on the part of ICE, and yet the local ICE
confirmed with a representative of the Steelworkers
that it wasn't coming from them. It was coming from the
company." She says workers began receiving these
letters Monday, even though the Department of Homeland
Security "has informed the company that the
verification process has been suspended."
Workers who were on Palermo's payroll as of June 2 will
be eligible to vote in the NLRB election, even if
they've since been fired, while temp workers will not.
Workers will begin testifying on their injunction
"We need your help to win this fight," Ramirez told the
crowd at the recall GOTV rally June 3. He asked them to
call Palermo's "to tell them that you won't buy their
pizza 'til they negotiate with the workers and respect
their right to organize."
Workers have since called for a formal boycott of
Palermo's, and have been joined on the picket line by
local activists and union members. Their cause is being
promoted by the AFL-CIO and others. The strike, which
had been focused on demanding the company voluntarily
recognize the union, is now focused on demanding that
Palermo's reverse the firings, end the use of temp
workers and honor the NLRB election process.
Neumann-Ortiz said last night that given the scheduling
of the NLRB election and ICE's statement that there is
no 10-day deadline, Voces had reached out to Palermo's
to discuss negotiating to bring back the fired workers
and end the strike. But "the company has refused to
negotiate in any way."
Workers estimated that 60 to 80% of Palermo's workforce
went on strike. "There's still a lot of fear," says
"We try to talk them into coming together with us,"
says striker Juan Jasso. "Some of them are scared,
that's why they're not here. But most of them are out
Silva says the strike is showing Palermo's "that we're
not machines. After so many years, we're not part of
the machinery." After ignoring workers for years, he
says, "Now they're paying attention."
Birds Eye Foods Workers to Vote Whether to Join
by Rich Rovito
The Business Journal (Milwaukee,WI)
June 13, 2012
Workers at the Birds Eye Foods Inc. plant in Darien in
Walworth County will vote June 26 whether to join the
United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Organizing petitions have been filed by UFCW Local 1473
with the Milwaukee office of the National Labor
Relations Board seeking to represent a total of 28
full-time and seasonal workers at the plant, W8880
County Road X.
The proposed bargaining unit would include process
control and quality assurance employees at Birds Eye.
Local 1473 already represents about 300 hourly
production workers at the facility, which produces
frozen and cold-packed vegetables.
The workers involved in the union organizing effort are
seeking to have more input in the operation of the
plant and the ability to address issues with management
without the fear of retaliation, said Brian Romanowich,
organizing director at 1473.
"They are worried about keeping their jobs and
supporting their families," Romanowich said. "They
don't want to be afraid to voice their opinions."
Process control and quality assurance employees also
are seeking more equal treatment with unionized
production employees, he said.
"We represent the rest of the plant," Romanowich said.
The union is confident that it will prevail in the
election, despite management's effort to convince
workers to remain free of union representation, he
"The company is trying its best to paint a different
picture," Romanowich said.
Birds Eye is a unit of Mountain Lakes, N.J.-based
Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, whose other brands include
Armour and Aunt Jemima.
Pinnacle Foods management didn't return a call seeking
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