Workers Join UE
First in Burlington, then in
Montpelier, Vermont food Co-op
workers decided they needed a voice on the job with UE.
Here's how two groups of workers came to the same decision.
|Enthusiasm: The members of new UE Local 203 celebrate their organizing success.
It took the more than 160 workers at City Market, a Burlington food co-op, a mere six weeks to form and gain recognition
of their new UE local.
In mid-January, a few City Market employees approached the UE about forming a union at the downtown supermarket/food
co-op. At the large meeting, 20 people joined the organizing committee and formulated an organizing program which emphasized the need to
establish livable wages, to protect existing benefits and to gain a real say in the work place. Within a week of this meeting, the
organizing committee grew to 25 people and more than 100 employees had joined UE by signing a membership petition.
"Our store has done very well," said Sean Hutton, organizing committee member and stocker. "We’ve
gone beyond our projected sales and lot of that is due to the people on the floor. We provide great customer service. The people at City
Market have made this store successful, and they deserve the dignity of being able to pay their rent and their bills."
Newly elected negotiating committee member and graphic artist, Martha Hull, added "I’m happy we joined UE
because of the union’s structure. I feel confident that because UE is an independent union, it really will be run by us. I like that we’ll
The organizing committee took the membership petitions to the co-op’s Board of Directors and demanded voluntary
recognition of their new UE local at the board’s monthly meeting. (Federal labor law allows employers to voluntarily recognize a union
based on confirmation of the union’s majority status — this is an opportunity that most employers reject in favor of a more
contentious and longer federal government election procedure.)
The organizing committee told the Board that voluntary recognition was the only acceptable response to the workers’
decision to form a union. In January 1999, Burlington’s City Council adopted a resolution which called upon city employers to remain
neutral during union organizing drives and to grant unions "card check" upon request.
City Market’s board delayed their decision on voluntary recognition for a week after hearing from some in management
that workers who had signed the membership petition had been "pressured" into signing the membership petition and that others
did not understand what they were signing. The store’s workers were determined to show the board of directors that a solid majority of
employees wanted to be part of UE.
On Feb.13-14 (during the week between the co-op’s board meetings) City Market workers participated in a community-run
election. Carina Driscoll, a city council candidate, and Richard Kemp, a city council member, conducted the election inside the store in
the employee break room. Management agreed to allow the election to happen on the store premises after the union threatened to rent a
large van and decorate it and park it in the store’s parking lot for the election. City Market’s management had an observer present
throughout the election. The vote was 89 for the UE and 23 against.
When the Board of Directors met again on Feb.17, it voted to grant voluntary recognition of the union. Father Mike
Cronogue, a priest on the faculty of St. Michael’s College near Burlington, performed the "card check" on Feb. 28. The final
tally was 105 workers who had joined UE and 52 who had not. The co-op’s board of directors formally signed the recognition agreement on
City Market is a large co-op/supermarket located in downtown Burlington, Vermont. When the only downtown grocery store
closed several years ago, the city of Burlington actively sought and took bids from other supermarkets to build a store on city owned land
and with the city’s assistance. Burlington’s city council voted to let the Co-op build so long as the co-op offered mainstream foods
as well as natural foods, and the new store was built.
Currently City Market employs about 180 people; approximately 165 of these employees are in the bargaining unit. Many
workers feel the store has been changing rapidly and in ways that make the business feel more corporate and less cooperative.
"We felt we needed to organize in order to bring back the original co-op atmosphere," said Ariel Bolles,
a cashier and organizing committee member.
Christine Seddon, a worker in the stocking department and a member of the negotiating committee, said that she and her
co-workers felt left out of the decisions being made about the co-op. "There have big changes in management, and we wanted a voice in
where the store is going and in its future," Christine said. "We also want to work towards a livable wage. I like UE in part
because of its anti-war stance."
UE’s new members are already talking about ways to build their new union among other employees in the Burlington area
and will participate in a UE-sponsored March for Livable Wages in Burlington on April 12.
UE News - 4/03
It's UE at Hunger Mountain
Employees of Hunger Mountain, a cooperative grocery store, voted overwhelmingly for UE representation in a special community election
April 22. Some 65 Hunger Mountain employees will be represented by the union.
This is the second group of Vermont co-op workers to join UE this year. Burlington’s City Market employees voted for UE representation
Hunger Mountain staff organized for livable wages, a grievance procedure and gaining a voice in working conditions, benefits and wages.
The Hunger Mountain Co-op Council voted April 7 to recognize UE upon a majority vote in favor of the union at a secret ballot poll. The
council’s resolution stated that "the Co-op recognizes and respects the right of its employees to organize a union for the purposes
of collective bargaining."
The 39-1 victory came in a Strukness Poll, a type of employer-sanctioned community election in which the boss hires a neutral outsider to
conduct the voting under circumstances similar to National Labor Relations Board elections.
First-contract negotiations are expected to begin as the UE NEWS goes to press.
Intl. Rep. Kim Lawson and Field Org. Heather Riemer assisted the Hunger Mountain employees.
UE News - 5/03