28 March 1999

Scott Rettberg, William Gillespie, & The Fifth Column


Supervalu is an enormous grocery distributor, supplying JerryĂs IGA, County Market, and Super K with all their groceries. Their warehouse is located on north Lincoln avenue, in a warehouse formerly run by JM Jones. Supervalu bought JM Jones in the 1960s. JM Jones retained a separate identity, until about ten years ago. Previously in Champaign, Supervalu has been in Urbana since the 1960s. 

IĂve been working for them for more than two decades. Eventually, work-related injuries forced them to change me to a less physically strenuous position. 

For about a year, weĂve been trying to organize. We want to join the Teamsters Local 26. In response to our efforts to unionize, Supervalu has announced the downsizing of about 140 employees. People.

So now theyĂve announced that theyĂre about to give me my eight-weeks notice. After IĂve devoted my best years to helping them build their multibillion dollar business, theyĂre showing me and my fellow workers the curb. Their decision comes immediately after our decision last April, to hold a shop vote on unionizing.

If I were cynical, IĂd suspect that the companyĂs decision to lay off 120 drivers and replace us with a third party carrier was directly due to the fact that we were actively working to establish a united voice in our negotiations with the company. The company says that itĂs the bottom line. They arenĂt losing money. They just want to jack up their profits, shave a little more off for the people at the top. In the registered letter they sent us, the company explains how many more millions of dollars they will be making when they lay us off. As if that's supposed to make us feel better. As if we work for the company purely out of an interest in the company's profit margin.

The company has informed us that the only thing the union will be able to negotiate is how we get laid off, and thatĂs only if we behave ourselves in the companyĂs eyes.  Yet, somehow they construe that to be good faith bargaining.  The law is weak and they hope to get a free ride from the National Labor Relations Board.  They like to pretend itĂs what you say, not what you do, that counts with the government.  The government gets away with it all the time; why shouldnĂt SuperValu? 

Between 1993 and 1995, Kate Bronfenbrenner did a study of the tactics used by businesses to dissuade their employees from unionizing. The results, published in The Effects of Plant Closing on the Right of Workers to Organize, reveal that bosses, to  prevent workers from forming unions, use these tactics:

· 80 % hire professional consultants to fight workersĂ unions

Supervalu has a top manager who does nothing but deal with the unions which are recognized at 33 out of 36 of SupervaluĂs divisions. He has a
team of pricey labor attorneys to assist him in finding loopholes in the law and giving the government false statements about SupervaluĂs real

· 80 % hold one-on-one sessions with supervisors to train them to attack unions

The supervisors at Supervalu have been in almost constant meetings since the organizing drive started over a year ago.  Either theyĂre slow learners or they are having trouble keeping up with the unionĂs organizing drive.  It would seem from the poor performance of company stock recently that they should pay their employees more, so they can buy more groceries.

· 32 % fire employees who actively help other workers join unions

Drivers who are known to be sympathetic to the union can hardly enough runs to get in their regular hours.  Drivers that management has been pulling from the garage have been getting lots of overtime because they have been perceived by management to be against the union.  Management doesnĂt have a clue to whatĂs going on.

· 77 % distribute literature attacking unions

We have been inundated with question and answer type memos attacking the union. But when we try to get answers to our questions, they tell us that theyĂll have to get back with us or check with their attorneys.

· 50 % threaten to close the plant if workers form a union

Supervalu first threatened to contract out our jobs last year when the drivers started organizing.  The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against Supervalu, but withdrew it when the government indicated that they felt it wasnĂt provable that the company was threatening workers with loss of their jobs.  That was then; this is now.  Supervalu is doing exactly what they said they would do last year.  We got our 60-day layoff notice on March 12.  The interesting thing is that the law applies to plant closings.  In this case, the plant will still be there.  Supervalu just wants to change the workers in direct violation of the law protecting the right to organize a union.

· 90 % hold mandatory, closed door, one-on-one meetings with employees to attack workersĂ unions

This is the only thing that Supervalu hasnĂt done yet.  But now that they are planning on getting rid of the workers, whatĂs the point?

WeĂre screwed, pure and simple.  Take what they give and thank them for giving you anything at all for your years of hard and efficient work.Most of a lifetime, wasted.

We consulted with our attorney and he assured us that you can always trust those who have to talk to lawyers to figure out whether they are breaking the law.  The opinion we bought, no, I mean purchased, well it is really just an opinion, is that we hope to increase our profits at the expense of our workers first, then our investors, and finally we hope that we are part of the great Future Monopoly that will make even greater profits from you, our dependent consumers. 

Thank you for buying groceries.

Newspoetry at Spineless Books