Minnesota: UFCW 663 members to vote on Unfair Labor Practice strike at Seward Co-op
Minneapolis, MN – On Monday, September 25, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 663 members at Seward Community Co-op are set to take an authorization vote for an Unfair Labor Practice strike. This follows several weeks of bargaining and struggle on the shop floor on several issues between workers and management.
Management’s proposals fall short
Bargaining between Seward Co-op and UFCW has been ongoing since early August, and while tentative agreements have been reached on most issues – such as increased autonomy over use of unpaid time off – and a general agreement (not yet a tentative agreement) on wage equity, with the specifics still being worked out. However, the company’s proposals on wage increases have continued to fall short. Seward is offering an immediate $1.50 per hour pay bump, but the current low employee wages, this would still fail to meet the cost of living in Minneapolis and make up for inflation.
The bargaining process has been difficult, as management walked out of the room during the last two bargaining sessions – including one where a federal mediator was present. In response, workers leafletted and spoke with customers as they entered the stores about management's refusal to bargain. Customers were asked to call Seward in support of workers and tell them to return to the table, many of them doing so. In between bargaining, management's harassment and retaliation against workers has not let up, forcing some workers to quit, and rank-and-filers decided to take action again.
Workers walk out
On September 15, union songs played over the store speakers of the Seward Community Co-op's Franklin Avenue location as workers, fed up with management's retaliatory tactics now that the right to arbitration was lost with the previous contract’s expiration, prepared to stage a walkout. At noon and 5 p.m., Seward workers walked out to chants of “Who are we? 663!” And gathered outside of the Franklin Avenue and 38th Street Friendship locations, with yellow and blue UFCW signs carried all throughout the crowd. The solidarity in force was powerful and both stores reported virtually total participation of employees in the actions.
“Workers were feeling a bit demoralized by the intimidation tactics from the bosses the past two weeks,” said Anthony Taylor-Gougé, a UFCW 663 member at Seward and part of the union bargaining team. “But after our walkouts last Friday, we are feeling energized and ready to fight for one another. It showed all of us that we are not alone, and when we stand together, we can accomplish great things. We are collectively prepared to stand up to the bosses and assert that we deserve better.”
Management in reaction has started on its own PR campaign to turn the community against a possible strike. This campaign however is already proving to be ineffective, as community members and other nearby businesses have already voiced support for the workers.
A possible strike
With an expired contract, and management's continued intimidation tactics, the union's Unfair Labor Practice strike vote is fast approaching. If the vote succeeds, the union bargaining team will be going into the September 27 session with a powerful strike threat in hand. How management will respond to that remains to be seen. The solidarity of UFCW workers so far has been strong; workers know they make the co-op run. Whether management wants to learn that the easy way or the hard way is their decision.