Strike Two

A Teamster's strike that began two months ago in Tolleson is poised to go nationwide after a long-awaited federal labor report substantiated union claims that Fry's grocery store owners violated labor laws.

The report by the general counsel's office of the National Labor Relations Board was released last week. In it, the NLRB charges owners of the Valley's 12 Fry's grocery stores and a Fry's distribution center in Tolleson with violating federal labor laws multiple times in the events leading up to the ongoing strike.

Valley Fry's stores are owned by the Ohio-based Kroger Corporation, a supermarket conglomerate that took over the Fry's chain in 1981.

"Kroger has engaged in conduct inherently destructive to the rights guaranteed employees by the National Labor Relations Act," writes NLRB regional director Cornel Overstreet in the November 30 report of his office's investigation. "The strike was caused by the unfair labor practices of Kroger."

The trouble in Tolleson began in February, when Kroger purchased the Fred Meyer's chain of stores for $11.8 billion. ("Freddy Kroger," House, October 21) In a move designed to slash payroll costs, Kroger immediately closed down the two west Phoenix warehouses that had served Fry's for 25 years -- both of which were Teamsters Local 104 shops -- and consolidated all its Valley distribution operations into a nonunion Tolleson facility previously owned by Fred Meyer's.

More than 450 Teamsters were laid off. Kroger hired back fewer than half of them, but for lower wages and benefits.

Following months of fruitless bargaining sessions, the Tolleson Teamsters went on strike at one minute after midnight October 2, the day a temporary labor agreement between their union and Kroger expired.

Local 104 also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The union accused Kroger of failing to negotiate in good faith -- that is, using negotiations solely as a stalling and interference tactic -- and of threatening and attempting to intimidate workers the company believed to be union agitators. Local 104 also claimed Kroger had refused to re-hire known union organizers from the Phoenix warehouses.

Overstreet found evidence to support all the union's accusations.

"Kroger interrogated and attempted to intimidate organizers and deliberately interfered with their right to organize," he writes.

Overstreet called for a hearing of his charges to begin early next year. If Kroger is found to have violated federal labor laws, the company will likely be forced to re-hire all of the Teamsters under the terms of their old contract. Kroger could also face punitive fines.

Kroger CEO Joe Pichler did not return a message seeking an interview.

Local 104 spokesman George Scovill was feeling more loquacious. "The guys on the line are walking on clouds," he said. "The atmosphere here is joyous. [The report] was exactly what we'd hoped for."

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: david.holthouse@newtimes.com

 
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