Tuesday, June 12, 2007

In High-Stakes Mexican Standoff, the UFCW Blinks...

...and blinks and blinks...

Being raised in the great American Southwest, where legends of gunfighters abound, there is a belief that the dude who blinks first in a gunfight is gonna wind up dead.

For those unfamiliar with tales of the old wild west, a parallel equivalent can be said about schoolyard fights: The kid who blinks first is going to get a bloody nose.

Well, the current fight between the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) and grocery chains, Albertsons, Kroger, Ralphs and Vons seemed to be a lot like a Mexican standoff...Until the UFCW blinked...and then kept on blinking.

In Southern California, the UFCW had their clocks cleaned in 2004, when they took their members out on the picket lines for 4 1/2 months. The result was devastating for UFCW members.

As of March 5th, the contract that the UFCW agreed to in 2004 to end their work stoppage has expired. Now what?

Well, the UFCW first tried to rattle their sabre by getting members to authorize a strike against Albertsons back on March 25th, only to get hit over the head by all three chains stating that (like 2004) they would lock out their workers if any one chain were struck by the UFCW.

This was the UFCW's first blink...
Never go to a gunfight with a pea shooter.

Now, the UFCW is attempting to turn up the pressure again by declaring a June 21st deadline for SoCal negotiations to either reach a contract...Or Else...

What's the "Or Else?"...

Well, the UFCW may hold additional strike votes on June 24th for Ralphs' and Vons' workers.

BUT, it should be noted that the UFCW isn't actually saying they'll strike, only that they'll either have a contract or hold more strike authorization votes.

In fact, the UFCW leaders seem to be scurrying away from saying the union will actually strike.

"This is not a call to battle," said Rick Icaza, president of United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 770.

"I don't view this deadline today as confrontational," said Mickey Kasparian, who leads Local 135 of the UFCW, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties.

[Kasparian's local is, however, offering loans through a credit union for qualified members who may be affected by a strike or lock out.]

In a video to his members (which you can view here) , Greg Conger, President of UFCW Local 324 states that if the chains do not provide an offer that can be ratified "the decision regarding economic actions would soon follow..."

Although Conger seems to choose his words carefully on his video, and although it's inferred, he doesn't actually threaten that the union will walk out.

Note: Conger, you may recall, is the same UFCW boss who wrote a nasty letter to a member, threatening the member with retaliation for choosing to cross a UFCW picket line.
It seems as though, like most school yard bullies with paper balls, the UFCW talks tough and has no problem picking on smaller kids (i.e., their members)...BUT seems to be doing everything it can to avoid a real fight.

Blink #2...
Don't make threats unless you're willing to carry them out.

In the Lone Star State (that's Texas, for you Nor' Easterners), the UFCW was also trying to pick a fight over the last couple of weeks with Kroger.

Last Friday, when he got his meat-cutting members to authorize a strike for last Sunday against Kroger, UFCW Dallas boss, Johnny Rodriguez, as proud as a peacock, proclaimed:

"This is Texas-style UFCW solidarity. Kroger meatcutters in Dallas aren't going to let Kroger kick around our brothers and sisters in Houston," said Johnny Rodriguez, UFCW Local 540 President.

However, Sunday's strike deadline came and went.

"We won't strike at midnight. We did agree to a cooling-off period and will get back together some time early this week," said Jill Cashen, spokeswoman for the UFCW in Washington, D.C.

Blink #3...
If you're going to make public proclamations, don't chicken out (see blink #2)

Blink #4...
Don't insult the rest of the people in the good state of Texas with your blast of false bravado (see blink #3); or, simply, Don't Mess With Texas

It should be noted that Kroger is the only chain in the Dallas are with a unionized workforce.

Although we've written about the two-faced and laughably pathetic UFCW in previous blogs, the UFCW just seems to get more and more amusing.

As a footnote to this...

Another lesson from the old west:

When dealing with braggarts, blinkers, or just plain old scallywags, always be on the look out for a sucker punch. (In Dallas, they call it the shooter behind the grassy knoll.)

It is entirely possible for the UFCW to pull its members out on strike in multiple states at all of the chains with expired contracts. In fact, this was directly implied a couple of weeks ago by one of the national UFCW bosses:

"The battlefield will not just be in Southern California," said Patrick O'Neill, national director of collective bargaining for the union. "It won't be confined to the geography of California if there is a work stoppage."

Now, wouldn't that be interesting...

Stay tuned.

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