Wal-Mart workers in Greeley want vote on union
Grand County correspondent
GREELEY ” Fifteen employees at the west Greeley Wal-Mart hope to break the track record of failed union attempts at Wal-Mart.
The group is inviting the 300-plus employees who work at the store at 920 47th Ave., to join them and organize under the United Food and Commercial Workers Local No. 7, the union of choice for many Front Range grocery workers.
“This is a big fight, and that’s why I’m doing it,” said Jared West, 21, a senior at the University of Northern Colorado who has worked at Greeley’s newest Wal-Mart for two years. “I’m not the kind of person who can just sit there and allow (the company) to keep pushing people around. … It scares me, but I’m not willing to back down. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to change it around here, but I’m going to try.”
West went to the UFCW in March and began discussing the employees’ options then. He and other employees are collecting signatures to organize a union vote. They must get 30 percent of the employees to sign the petitions to have a vote.
If they can get 50 percent plus one vote in an election, they will have won their right to unionize and collectively bargain with the company.
“We can help them negotiate a good contract and get some good benefits and wages,” said Norberto Ricardo, organizing director for Local 7. “We need at least 30 percent of the workers, but we want more than that because we want a strong campaign.”
West and other employees are concerned about not only pay and benefits but how management treats employees and a “gigantic game of favoritism” that determines raises and promotions and demotions without warning.
The big guns, however, are already out.
Just days after the employees sent a letter to store manager Rick Krehbiel notifying him of their intent to organize, West said “company experts” began showing anti-union education tapes to employees. The company also allowed anti-union employees to rant about the evils of unions without balance on the other side, West said.
“It ends up creating a rift between people who are trying to unionize and other hourly associates,” he added.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said Wal-Mart employees have the right to know what unions can and can’t do. She said she couldn’t speak specifically to the west Greeley push, but said Wal-Mart officials believe they should not be unionized.
“We don’t feel like unions are right for Wal-Mart,” Gallagher said. “And our associates don’t feel like they need a union or they would have voted for it. Our associates have time and again rejected the union because they realize there is nothing that a third party can do to add to their environment at Wal-Mart.”
The bigger concerns, West said, should be about company policies.
He said the company doesn’t compensate people fairly, such as allowing a 10-year employee to make just 20 cents an hour more than a two-year employee.
“They just changed the pay scale, giving people a flat 40 cent raise when we used to get 4 to 5 percent,” West said. “That helped people who haven’t been here that long because they got more. But, when you’re at the $10-an-hour mark, you start losing money. You were better off with the percentage.”
Other concerns include health benefits.
Two-year employee Erica Arellano, 23, who was paying her health insurance through Wal-Mart, was hospitalized last year twice for kidney stones. The second time, she was in the intensive care unit, but insurance didn’t cover it because of an obscure clause that stated employees cannot exceed $25,000 in medical benefits in their first year of employment.
“Even the personnel manager didn’t know about that,” Arellano said.
Now, her wages are being garnished to pay off the $57,000 debt to the hospital, and she’ll likely have to file for bankruptcy.
“The company needs to realize that we’re not doing this because we want to retaliate or to upset them,” Arellano said. “We’re doing this because there are issues in this store that we believe haven’t been heard. It’s not just about better pay and benefits or not being treated fairly. It goes a little deeper.
“If we don’t succeed with the union, maybe they’ll say, ‘we should listen,’ and maybe some good will come out of it.”
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