Minneapolis: UFCW 663 workers fighting for better pay, respect at Seward Co-op; management walks out of bargaining
Minneapolis, MN – United Food and Commercial Workers 663 workers at Seward Community Co-op have been working without a contract since their previous one expired on August 20 of this year, and in bargaining for a new agreement, management has fought against workers’ demands on nearly every issue.
The key demands from workers in bargaining have included increased pay, an additional week of paid parental leave, wage equity and cost of living raises, and pushing against automation, such as self-checkout lanes. Tentative agreements have been reached on most points, but wages and wage equity remain a contentious issue.
“Wear Your Wage” campaign
Seward Co-op has employees with a wide range of experience in the industry, some having one to two years, some up to 15 or more. According to Anthony Taylor-Gougé, a Seward employee and member of the union bargaining team, under the previous contract Seward is supposed to compensate workers for relevant work experience when hired. However, employees later discovered that management did not hold up their end of the agreement, and often handed out only one or two experience credits for employees with several years of experience, while new hires with only one or two years of experience were given three or four credits, to make their starting wage seem more competitive in the industry.
Despite the Co-op’s lip service to values such as equity, the base starting wage for employees has only grown 50 cents since the previous contract was signed in 2020, now totaling only $15.50, far less than a livable wage in Minneapolis in 2023.
Cub Foods, Lunds and Kowalski’s are also grocery stores represented by UFCW 663 and in their newest contracts [see Fight Back News April and July articles] set a standard $4 per hour wage increase over two years. Seward workers have demanded their wages be brought up to the new industry standard, but management has continued to refuse, and all the while workers are struggling to pay rent, utilities and for other necessities. Instead of paying their employees more, management has decided to put $2.5 million into remodeling their Franklin Avenue location.
After a complete lack of progress with management in bargaining, rank-and-file employees decided to take action on the shop floor. “We started wearing our wages on our masks and name tags to let shoppers know what's going on, and we've had lots of great conversations with people who are shocked at how little people are making, especially those of us with many years of experience,” said Olivia Crull, a UFCW 663 member and employee at Seward Co-op. “Management on the other hand would like to pretend these numbers don't exist.”
Management walks out of bargaining
The two previous bargaining sessions between UFCW and Seward on Thursday, September 7, and Friday, September 8, saw management walk out of the room and refuse to return to the table for the rest of the day, despite a federal mediator being present during their Friday session, and are now trying to move the bargaining location.
“We have been holding bargaining at our Friendship location, because it is accessible to our workers, especially those who walk or bus to work,” said Taylor-Gougé. “On Friday, after management refused to continue bargaining, they made us aware that they would like to move bargaining to on offsite location in Northeast Minneapolis. Despite what bogus reasoning the bosses claim to have, it is clearly about trying to make attending bargaining inaccessible to workers, as we have had upwards of 20-plus workers attend a given bargaining session.”
On Saturday, September 9 workers gathered outside the Franklin location of the store to leaflet customers, asking them to call Seward Co-op management and demand that they come back to the bargaining table. On Sunday workers did the same at the Co-op’s 38th Street Friendship location. They were joined by supporters from Minnesota Workers United as well as other unions in the Twin Cities.
“Management should welcome transparency and equitable conditions for the people who make the co-op run, but instead, it’s getting harder and harder for workers to make ends meet, and many of us aren’t even making a livable wage,” said Crull. “We know the co-op members and community are behind us, and we’re all waiting for management to get back to the table and do the right thing.”