A Connecticut grocery workers’ local sells out its members to Stop & Shop, a lawsuit alleges.
The leadership of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 919 pushed an unacceptable contract on one of its Stop & Shop bargaining units, and when the members balked, 919 leaders allowed the grocery store to cut their wages anyway, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last week.Two Stop & Shop inventory clerks- Lois Howd and Lisa Weyel- allege Local 919 President Mark Espinosa presented their five union member bargaining unit with a contract last August that stopped paying workers for their drive time, the complaint says. Since the clerks spend many hours a day driving to and from inventory sites, the new format would have severe financial consequences, the lawsuit alleges.However, when the workers objected, Espinosa’s response “was to swear at them, throw the written proposals on a table, and storm out,” the complaint says.Then, when a majority of the bargaining unit refused to sign the contract, Local 919 leadership “accepted the proposed contract” anyway and Stop & Shop stopped paying for travel time in December, the lawsuit says.Local 919 represents 10,000 members in Connecticut, according to its web site, mostly grocery clerks and cashiers. ctnewsjunkie.com called the union’s headquarters in Farmington seeking comment from Espinosa. An individual who answered the phone gave her name only as “Carol,” said the union would have no comment on the lawsuit and refused to transfer us to Espinosa.When ctnewsjunkie.com asked for her last name, she hung up the phone. The local’s web site lists a Carol Welk as the office manager. Days after the lawsuit was filed, however, Espinosa sent a letter to the members, which the plaintiffs turned over to their attorney, Leon Rosenblatt, a West Hartford-based employment lawyer. “Two employees have raised an issue concerning the validity of the vote on the proposed collective bargaining agreement,” Espinosa wrote. “Since we have not signed the document, we are going to resubmit the contract for a vote.“If it is true that Espinosa never signed the contract, then Stop & Shop unilaterally slashed wages without a collective bargaining agreement in place. Rosenblatt has filed charges on behalf of the plaintiffs with the National Labor Relations Board against Stop & Shop over the issue. A spokesperson for the grocer did not return a call for comment. Rosenblatt says the new vote makes no difference in terms of the lawsuit, and that his clients have still lost nearly $2,000 each since January because of the new drive time rules.Even though the inventory clerks’ bargaining unit is a small part of Local 919’s total membership, the lawsuit says, its leaders still have a duty to represent the members fairly.“Rather than discharge this responsibility, the defendants have treated the plaintiffs with disdain and hostility, and they denied the plaintiffs their collective bargaining rights,” the complaint says. “Espinosa has admitted Stop & Shop wants to make the inventory takers nonunion, and he has demonstrated through his actions and his words that he also wants them out of the union.“The solution to this situation is union democracy, Rosenblatt argues. “When you have a union official who is a sell out, the rank and file ought to organize and replace him,” the lawyer says.