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The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled a formal hearing for January of next year after the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1564, filed a complaint against Smith’s Food and Drug Centers for bad faith bargaining.
According to a union press release, the NLRB issued a complaint in order to prosecute Smith’s. The union represents more than 2,000 Smith’s employees, in Los Alamos, Albuquerque, Farmington, Santa Fe and Taos.
According to the press release, the NLRB is prosecuting Smith’s for refusing to meet, refusing to accept proposals and refusing to bargain in the absence of a mediator. The NLRB complaint also includes allegations that Smith’s has violated the employees’ rights by threatening and otherwise interfering with employee Section 7 rights.
The hearing is scheduled for January but that can be avoided if the two sides can reach a settlement.
Inquiries to the Smith’s corporate office went unanswered.
The union press release stated, that despite 42 straight quarters of sales growth by Kroger’s (Smith’s parent company), New Mexico employees will not receive any holiday pay.
“Bargaining has not gone well,” the press release stated. “Smith’s has only been willing to offer two 15-cent raises over four years and offered no money to fund the current employees’ health care. Smith’s employees want a fair share of the success.”
The NLRB complaint said that Smith’s must file an answer to the charges on or before Sept. 12.
According to Greg Frazier, president of UFCW Local 1564, Smith’s and union representatives have only met three times since Smith’s abruptly terminated negotiations on June 4. Smith’s representatives fly in that day, are available from approximately 12−3:30 p.m., then fly back out. The most recent meeting was on Aug. 27. Smith’s refused to provide optional dates for another session.
“It’s very frustrating. Their hard working employees are frustrated,” Frazier said. “This ultimately gives us a lot of options, but our goal is to get a decent contract for the workers, not end up on the picket line.”
According to Frazier, “ending up on the picket line” may be the union’s only option unless workers are willing to wait for the government’s suit to go to court Jan. 27. The union can engage in an “unfair labor practice strike,” which has a different set of rules than a regular strike.
According to Frazier, workers would be allowed to picket directly in front of the store instead of being confined to a public sidewalk. It would also be illegal for Smith’s to hire permanent replacement workers.
“Pretty much an unfair labor practice strike is our last tool. That’s where we’re heading. But we want to reach a deal. That’s still the goal,” Frazier said.
“I’m not here to get the workers to strike, but I am here to make sure that the company’s going to negotiate. But we’re not having good success, and the government has upheld our allegations thus far now.”