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Union launches campaign against British-owned grocery stores (6254)

Is it the same ‘food fight’ in a different cafeteria≠
A chain of British-owned supermarkets fond of touting their wholesome food selection and environmental friendliness is getting a cold reception from a grocery workers’ union and its affiliates after opening four locations in Mesa and Chandler earlier this month.
Members of the national United Food Commercial Workers and its Local 99 affiliate distributed thousands of scathing fliers last week that targeted Fresh and Easy stores in the East Valley.
Similar measures have been conducted at or near the chain’s newly opened stores in California and Nevada.
Fresh and Easy’s U.K.-based parent company, Tesco, is ranked the third largest corporation in the world, registering $95 billion in sales from its 3,000 stores across Europe and Asia. Tesco stores sell food, clothing, electronics, cellular phone plans, financial services and even health insurance plans.
The fliers, part of the union’s “Fresh and Queasy” campaign against the stores, accuse Tesco of selling expired and pesticide-laden baby food, using child labor and not living up to their claims of environmental responsibility.
No UFCW members currently work in Fresh and Easy locations in California, Nevada or Arizona, according to the company’s spokesman Brendan Wonnacott, who declined to respond to the union allegations beyond inviting customers to “come see the stores for themselves.”
Wonnacott told Arizona Capitol Times that company executives would not speak directly with the media, but confirmed the company has been contacted at least in writing by union officials. Neither copies of the letters nor the topic of discussions were disclosed.
The national union has also hired a professional consultant to handle the campaign, though Katy Giglio, a spokeswoman for UFCW Local 99, confirmed that local members assisted distributing fliers at stores and surrounding neighborhoods.
Mike Shimpock, on behalf of UFCW, said the campaign’s intent is to inform consumers that Tesco has a “well documented” history of food safety infractions in the U.K., Czech Republic and other nations.
The priority, he said, was to ensure that consumers are not duped by Tesco’s decision to operate locations under a different name.
“Don’t support the whitewash: spend your grocery dollars somewhere else,” reads the “Fresh and Queasy” Web site.
Also posted are several articles from British news agencies detailing severe food safety violations at a London Tesco store in 2004, and the detected presence of pesticides in organic garlic sold by Tesco in 2006.
Another posted 2006 article notes a British consumer group gave Tesco an overall ‘D’ grade for its “green” efforts related to transporting food, managing waste and using sustainable farming.
Shimpock confirmed the union has been in contact with company management, but denied the campaign is in retaliation for disagreements over labor.
“I wouldn’t characterize it as a labor dispute,” he said. “Certainly, we’d like to see the stores unionized as we feel that provides a bulwark against food safety violations.”
However, one manager of a Chandler Fresh and Easy wasn’t so convinced. Union members, said Brian Owen, began handing out the leaflets to customers outside his market on Dec. 5 in what he believed to be an effort to “put unions in the stores.”
The allegations — use of pesticides, child labor and the selling of expired food — “crack me up,” said Owen, who ranked the terms of his employment well above grocery competitors he said he has worked for in the past.
Beginning wages for “customer assistance” positions start at $9 an hour, while “team leaders” earn $12 an hour. Employees working at least 20 hours a week are given full benefits after 90 days, and employees working at least 25 hours a week earn benefits plus paid vacation, he said.
The squabbling between the newly arrived grocery chain and the UFCW is reminiscent of summer battles between Bashas’ and the UFCW Local 99, which accused Bashas’ and its sister stores of selling expired baby food formula.
Bashas’ management claimed the accusations were a “smear campaign” to punish the company for refusing to direct management to union bargaining talks. Local 99 was aided by members of Somos America, a prominent migrant rights group, and other community activists.
Meetings called for by Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, D-15, Steve Gallardo, D-13, and Minority Leader Phil Lopes, D-27, to address the issue of stores selling expired formula were cancelled in July and never rescheduled.
A month earlier, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry merged with the Arizona Association of Industries to focus on pro-business goals, among them checking the growing influence of Arizona’s organized labor demonstrated by the 2006 success of an AFL-CIO-led ballot initiative that raised minimum wage.
Through a spokeswoman, the chamber’s executive director, Glenn Hamer, declined to comment for this article.
Fresh and Easy has announced it has 122 locations for stores, 50 of which are expected to be open in Arizona, California and Las Vegas by the end of February 2008.
By the end of next year, the corporation is hoping to have opened 200 locations. Each store is expected to employ 20 to 30 people, according to the company.

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