Piggly Wiggly: “We’d rather close than be fair!”

pigglywiggly

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - In an anti-union hard line reminiscent of Walmart, Piggly Wiggly announced it would close its Sheboygan, Wis., store on Sept. 1, throwing all 108 workers into the street, rather than submit to a federal court ruling that it broke the law by cutting 19 workers from full-time to part-time in violation of its United Food and Commercial Workers contract requiring negotiation of such moves.

PigglyWiggly's defiance echoes that of the world's largest and anti-union retailer, Walmart, in both Quebec and Tyler, Texas. In Jonquiere, Quebec, the retail monster closed its store rather than bargain with UFCW Canada, which had organized it.

And in Texas, when a small group of meatcutters organized, again with UFCW, Walmart closed all of its meatcutting operations nationwide. National and Quebec labor boards had ordered Walmart to bargain with its workers in those two cases.

Piggly Wiggly's anti-union stand is the real meaning of its truncated statement June 12 of the Sheboygan closing, observers say. Local media in Wisconsin largely ignored the dispute, U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert's ruling against Piggly Wiggly in May, and other impending complaints against Piggly Wiggly around Wisconsin.

The Sheboygan complaint by UFCW against Piggly Wiggly was backed in May by a 60-page decision by a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge, and by Clevert's order to Piggly Wiggly to make the workers whole and refrain from further such action. Observers called it a total union victory and a winning first round against Piggly Wiggly's treatment of its unionized workers.

Piggly Wiggly's evasion of good faith bargaining, even though Clevert vindicated his local's stand, distressed UFCW Local President John Eiden: "It's sad it had to come to this, where the employer can't sit down and bargain in good faith with the union."

UFCW lawyer Mark Sweet has complained to Piggly Wiggly about its new avoidance tactics. And Wisconsin media ignored a landmark federal ruling - the first such action in a dozen years affirming collective bargaining, workers' rights to organize, and a chosen union's priority to have its contract heeded.

Piggly Wiggly's sudden action was led by a notorious union busting law firm, Jackson Lewis, which just opened an office in Milwaukee. Piggly Wiggly also deceived UFCW. It first held a mutual meeting June 11, then used the lawyers the next day to "continue its unlawful behavior," in Sweet's words, to send a letter to the state, the union and all 108 Sheboygan store workers announcing its intention to close the store.

The court's next move, after the grocery chain defied Clevert's order to bargain, is unknown. He ordered the Sheboygan store to restore full-time status and health care rights to workers whose hours were cut to part-time without bargaining with their union, and to refrain from such unilateral decisions in the future. Observers say his order could extend to all 102 Piggly Wiggly Midwest stores in Wisconsin and Illinois.

They add they doubt Wiggly Piggly will shut all those stores just to escape future court rulings. But the chain already faces other unfair labor practice charges in Menasha, Racine, and Kenosha, Wis., all brought to the NLRB by the UFCW. An NLRB administrative law judge will hear those cases in Milwaukee, starting July 23. The NLRB office there has accused Piggly Wiggly of bargaining in bad faith at those stores.

Besides ordering Piggly Wiggly to restore full-time status and benefits to the 19 demoted workers, Clevert also ordered the Sheboygan supermarket to immediately offer full reinstatement to four others who resigned when told their hours were being cut.

As Clevert recounted, Piggly Wiggly justified its actions as a response to being told a "non-union" supermarket was opening in the neighborhood. Rather than explore competitive ideas, or talk to UFCW about the best ways forward, or look to promote the quality, depth, and experience of its own workforce, management simply went after the workers to cut costs by telling them they would now work part-time, not full-time.

The firm then posted bulletin board letters defending its behavior and berating the UFCW local for not supporting its efforts or helping workers cope with less pay. Clevert's decision cited such open anti-union hostility. And his ruling emphasized "a strong public interest in the integrity of the collective bargaining process."

Observers add Piggly Wiggly's anti-union hostility underlies its Sheboygan closing announcement. They call the firm's decision a reminder of legal maneuvers many corporations now undertake nationwide to avoid the consequences of their behavior and thwart the operation of labor law. Clevert's May decision against Piggly Wiggly was news in national legal and information circles, but except in Sheboygan, it went unreported in Wisconsin establishment media.

UFCW made constant attempts to publicize Clevert's ruling: It occurred during the war over collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin public workers, making it even bigger than usual. More than Piggly Wiggly is involved, say observers. They cite company corporate rumblings and contract traps involving Machinists, Steelworkers, and other unions in Wisconsin.

Dominique Paul Noth is editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press.

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  • Well, let them shut down, and for violating their contracts against union workers why seek reparations and take over the store under new management?

    Posted by TimFromLA, 08/06/2013 4:29pm (1 year ago)

  • Thank you for clarifying what is really happening in Sheboygan grocery stores.
    Piggly Wiggly Inc. is actually part of one of the 10 largest corporations in the United States, according to Forbes Magazine. C & S Wholesale Grocers no doubt are pushing the Pig to stomp out unions in its stores.
    I would say though that I learned about this case first by reviewing the NLRB case news files, which lead me to an article about the District Court decision on the Sheboygan Press site. They have covered the twists and turns of this case, which I am using as the centerpiece of a term paper for my National Labor College Labor Law course.
    It seems to me that the UFCF needs to at least handbill the Festival Foods store that opened near the Southside Pig. As far as I can see, it has done nothing to reach out to those employees, who I bet would have been interested in joining a union before the Pig announced it would rather close the store rather than bargain with the union.

    Posted by Laura Dely, 06/21/2012 12:19pm (2 years ago)

  • Re: the article's "Observers called it a total union victory"

    Not sure I'd be calling "total victory" when the result is the loss of everyone's jobs...although no doubt the union will continue to do so.

    Funny think about employers; they're the ones who have the jobs to provide....but, in the long run, they can't be forced to provide them. Until labor learns that lesson, I'm afraid it's going to have many more "victories" like the one "achieved" here.

    Posted by KenM, 06/17/2012 4:53am (2 years ago)

  • In cases like this there are always two sides to a story. Indeed the business may have been teetering, because a strong business would not have closed its doors. As a retired business owner i could have made this same decision. But negotiations could also be argued.

    But this is "free market." Not always "fair," but we get what we pay for (or the Koch brothers pays for).

    But this is a little fire. We should instead be worried about our politicians who are taking cash bribes to pass (or not pass) laws that benefit their funders.

    Posted by Jack Lohman, 06/16/2012 11:12am (2 years ago)

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