Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Critics continue to pile on the UFCW
Uh, big business is on the side of business? Hold the presses!
The most cogent section of the article:
Local UFCW leaders have often been at odds: Two weeks after the strike began, picket lines were removed from Ralphs stores to give consumers shopping options and to shore up the lines outside Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons, but before long that ploy fell apart. Strikers started picketing in front of Ralphs stores in Orange County and behind Ralphs stores in San Diego, while in Los Angeles the picket-line question was left up to each store's picket captain.
How could a venerable union get it so wrong?
It could be that no matter the approach, labor simply wouldn't be able to win a fight against supermarkets committed to significantly lowering their costs as they prepare for an assault from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other big discount grocers.
'It's not that they [at the UFCW] were idiots,' said Harry Katz, a professor specializing in collective bargaining at Cornell University. 'There was a reasonable basis for hope that they were going to win. The startling thing is the resilience of Safeway and the aggressiveness of the employers.'
At the same time, the union has been faulted. For one thing, as underscored by the Ralphs muddle, the UFCW in many ways hasn't kept up with the times. While the supermarket industry has consolidated into a handful of national corporations, the UFCW is still structured as it was back in the days of family-owned regional grocery chains, with many small, autonomous local chapters loosely affiliated under a national umbrella.
What's more, long-standing rivalries between several of the seven locals in Central and Southern California have surfaced repeatedly. The day the strike began, for example, the presidents of locals in Los Angeles and Orange counties bickered over who should be first at the microphone, with the conflict resolved when a third president took the stage. Leaders also sparred over who would speak for the union during an interview with ABC's Peter Jennings, a quarrel that ended when the interview was canceled.
If I read this right the union's big mistake was standing up to an opponent that was really determined to fight, and doing so while sticking to that antiquated, and messy, practice of leaving workers in charge of their own union local.