Union Cries Foul At Summer Hoops League

Morrissey Blvd. Star Market Involved In Union Dispute.

Morrissey Blvd. Star Market Involved In Union Dispute.

J.P. Goodwin

National Basketball Association (NBA) rookies and free agents weren’t the only ones trying to score points at the 2002 Shaw’s Pro Summer League at UMass Boston. A small contingent supporting the AFL-CIO’s United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union were also on hand passing out bright orange flyers titled “Is Star Market a Good Neighbor?”.

The informational flyers, distributed inside the Clark Athletic Center on July 16, were part of an organized attempt to publicize efforts to unionize Star Market employees in order to improve their working conditions. Star Market was purchased by Shaw’s, whose employees are unionized.

A successful movement to unionize would have a direct effect on the working conditions of employees at the local Star Market located on Morrissey Boulevard adjacent to the JFK T stop.

“We don’t think the university should be giving all this publicity to Shaw’s when they are actively engaging in anti-union activity,” explained Tom Goodkind, a member of UMB’s Professional Staff Union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 509. “We are in support of all Star Market and Shaw’s employees being able to engage in union activities without interference,” added Goodkind.

The protest was short-lived as UMB Public Safety informed the group of eight protesters that they couldn’t hand out flyers within the Clark Center and that their actions would have to be limited to an area away from the entrances to the gym and parking lot due to the fact that basketball tournament was a private event. After being informed they would have to move, the protesters contacted Boston City Hall which informed them that they needed a permit for their protest. According to Deputy Chief Phillip O’Donnell the group was “misinformed” and although they dispersed, “they didn’t actually need a permit for this type of activity.”

Sandy Felder, a spokesperson for the AFL-CIO, provided some background information on management activities which prompted the union activity. In 1998, Shaw’s (owned by British conglomerate J. Sainsbury) purchased Star Market stores, making them one of the largest super market chains in Massachusetts, with sales last year of $4,400,000,000. Shaw’s employees have been represented by the UFCW.

“Over the past year, Shaw’s aggressively attempted to destroy the union and has renounced its responsibilities to the workers,” declared Felder. She explained that in the Boston area (including at the Morrissey Boulevard location), Shaw’s has waged “an intensive campaign to prevent 6,000 Star Market workers from forming a union.” This campaign has reportedly included showing anti-union videos to new Star employees and forcing workers to attend anti-union talks during work time. Management has also been accused of limiting worker’s access to union organizers and attempting to intimidate workers by photographing organizers and calling the police.

A veteran employee of the Morrissey Blvd. Star Market [on the condition of anonymity] outlined some of the worker’s grievances. “The health insurance plan sucks, the pay sucks, most of us can only work part-time, even if we want to work full-time and God forbid they think your involved in union talk.”

According to the UFCW, J. Sainsbury is not only fighting to keep Star employees from unionizing, they also “are aggressively attempting to destroy the existing Shaw’s union.” These attempts reportedly include shredding its contract with workers in 11 Worcester-area Shaw’s stores, claiming these workers had no right to union representation; falsely claiming that the union would triple area workers’ cost for health insurance and unilaterally implementing changes to workers’ sick, vacation and personal time policies.

IF UFCW efforts are successful at Star Market stores, part-time workers would have opportunities to work full-time. Those who work part-time would have guaranteed hours. The cost of health insurance would decrease from $27 a week to $7 a week – the current cost of health insurance at unionized Shaw’s stores. They are also requesting salary increases (many Star employees earn less than $8 an hour) and the implementation of a formal grievance procedure.

Ashley McCown from the public relations firm Bishoff Solomon Communications, issued the following statement representing Shaw’s position: “These activities are nothing more than a misguided effort to distort the facts and interfere with our employees free choice.

“Our associates have the legal right to engage in union activity, and the company will not do anything to interfere with that right. However, the law also states that associates have the right to refrain from joining or supporting a union. Associates in our Star stores have reported being consistently harassed by union representatives from UFCW. They feel intimidated by these union representatives who are pressing them to answer questions and sign cards, even after they have repeatedly told the union they are not interested.

Our associates deserve to be treated with dignity and respect for their rights, and everyone, including unions, should respect those rights.”

Tess Ewing, from UMB Local 509, stated, ” “What we were doing at UMB is supporting what the union [UFCW] is trying to do. Since this event is taking place on our campus, we don’t think our workplace should be used as a place for a union busting employer such as Shaw’s to get favorable union busting community publicity.”