Union files complaint against Food Co-op

A union filed an unfair labor practice complaint Tuesday against the Ashland Food Co-op at the request of employees working to unionize the store.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which some employees are trying to join, filed the charges with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the pro-union workers at the co-op.

"There was a series of events that led union supporters to ultimately make the decision," said Anne Dietz, a UFCW representative. "As far as unfair labor practices go, they decided that management had hit the point of no return."

Although the official report filed with the NLRB won't become available to the public until today, Dietz said "instances of surveillance and intimidation through coercion" were among the allegations in the filing.

She said UFCW representatives received reports of co-op managers monitoring pro-union employees' Facebook pages, pulling employees aside to question them about their commitment to the union and asking them to sign an anti-union petition.

"That became the last straw," Dietz said. "It scared people & we hope that this will be a break from the union-busting that's going on."

Co-op General Manager Richard Katz said he was not aware of the unfair labor practice charge filed against his store, and that he would not comment until he had an opportunity to review the report.

Katz said the anti-union petition Dietz referred to came from employees at the co-op, not from the store's management.

A portion of that petition reads; "We, the below staff, do not want UFCW as a representative, and are asking UFCW 555 to end its disruptive divisive campaign at our work place."

"I think people here are just tired of the divisiveness and want a return to normalcy," he said. "78 out of our 149 employees signed that petition."

Just over a month ago, pro-union employees said they had about 70 people ready to support the union in a vote.

About two weeks ago, Dietz said, pro-union employees were a few days away from filing for an election with the NLRB, which would have left the decision to unionize the co-op up to a worker vote. Instead, they decided to go ahead with filing the unfair labor practice charge.

"The petition came out at the same time the workers were getting ready to file for the election," Dietz said. "The question for them became 'can we even have a fair election?' "

The co-op's management has a few options from here, Dietz said: either prove that managers did nothing wrong or sit down with workers who want to unionize and agree on a set of fair ground rules for the election.

"It could go really quickly, or it could be a few months before we know more," she said. "The goal is to have it resolved as soon as possible, because all they really want is to have a fair chance to vote."

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