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"Shop-In" for Shaw's Workers, Janitors (english)
by Daniel Keshet
Email: dkesh, channel1, com
Phone: 617 576 2688
28 Sep 2002
September 28, Cambridge -- Twenty shoppers participated in a "shop-in" this evening from 5:00 PM to 5:15 at the University Park Shaw's/Star Market near MIT. (article 3)
The shoppers wore bright yellow T-shirts reading "We
support Shaw's/Star Workers Right To Organize," and spread out through the store, returning to pay for their food all at the same time. Outside, a United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
(UFCW) Local 791 organizer handed out leaflets to Star shoppers. The
UFCW, a 1.4-million member union which represents Shaw's workers in
Southeastern Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Western Massachusetts, is
in the middle of a one-year-old campaign to organize 5,500 workers at
44 Shaw's and Star Markets throughout the state. (Shaw's and Star
Market are both owned by British multi-national Sainsbury.) The union
has employed the "shop-in" tactic many times, including a similar
action in July at the same Shaw's.
The shop-ins are intended to send a message to both management and
workers that the union is serious about the campaign and the community
supports the workers. This shop-in, which came at the end of a
Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) conference, also served a
second purpose: the food bought--rice, beans, vegetables, and picante
sauce--was donated to the janitors of the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU) Local 615 in preparation for their upcoming
11,000-person strike in Boston.
DSA member and shopper David Knuttunen said that most of the Shaw's
workers played it cool, not wanting to show too many signs of support
in front of management, but they definitely noticed and gave the
shoppers covert smiles. Management noticed as well, he added, staring
at him as he shoppped. One shopper reported management asked her to
leave when she took photographs of the event. Barry Hart, another DSA member and shopper,
said that other shoppers reacted positively, and while it felt a
awkward at first, he enjoyed shopping for a cause.
The DSA conference began earlier that day in the Cambridge Senior
Center in Central Square, with Brandeis professor Ellen Rosen giving a
presentation on the negative effects Wal-Mart's illegal anti-worker
tactics have on employees and consumers in the retail industry.
Following Rosen, Patrick Connors from UFCW Local 791 gave a
presentation on the Shaw's campaign. The most important reason for
the campaign, Connors said, is that Star Market refuses to hire
workers full-time, making them ineligible for benefits, even though
they work thirty to thirty-five hours per week. The company, he says,
has taken up surveillance on its employees and holds intimidating
meetings at which they tell workers that joining a union is a bad
idea. In February, the company announced that it would no longer
honor a contract with the union covering eleven stores in Worcester.
The union is protesting through the National Labor Relations Board.
In June, two top union officials, John Sweeney, President of the
AFL-CIO and Douglas Dority, president of the UFCW, were arrested for
trespassing while meeting with Shaw's workers in Shrewsbury.
Connors' presentation was followed by Russ Davis of Jobs with Justice.
Davis had just returned from a Copley Square presentation on behalf of
the soon-to-be-striking janitors, and he said the issues motivating
the janitors were the same as the issues Connors just spoke of: no
benefits, no health care, no full-time employment, and low wages. He
also made the point that many of the janitors were immigrants from
Latin America, forced here by the policies of the World Bank (WB) and
the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and expressed solidarity with
the people protesting those institutions in Washington, D.C. this
weekend. He urged all attendees to join the janitors at Park Street
or Northeastern University at 4:30 PM on Monday the 30th, the first
day of their strike.
Following Connors, Francis Garcia, a member of SEIU local 615
preparing to strike, gave an emotional presentation in which he told
the story of immigrating to Boston from the Dominican Republic,
searching for the American dream and instead finding a job that
doesn't even give him health insurance. John Shea, political director
of the SEIU local, followed with a brief recent history of the union.
One year ago, he said, the local had leadership that didn't represent
the membership, but now, after the local had been taken in and out of
receivership by the SEIU national leadership, the union is about the
members and not the leadership. Following his speech, attendees
contributed a total of 217 dollars to the janitors' strike fund.
Photographs by Heather Caunt