By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The election was conducted by mail-in ballot and took place in mid-September. But in the midst of the campaigning, Channel 7 aired a story that detailed the concerns about nepotism, high salaries and questionable spending. The Durans said that Cordova's team pushed for the story and that it had a major effect on the election.
Either way, Cordova and her slate of officers won every seat they ran for.
The two months between Halloween and New Year's Eve are probably the busiest time of the year for the grocery industry. Shoppers stock up for the winter and head for the stores repeatedly for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and other big family meals.
A strike or lockout during the holidays can be devastating for grocery employees, who would lose the majority of their paychecks during the course of the labor action. And if shoppers honor picket lines, as they did in California during a particularly difficult strike in 2003 and 2004, the grocery chains can also suffer.
That's why it's important to have strong leadership during delicate contract negotiations. "Anytime you're divided, that diffuses the power," says University of Denver management professor Cindi Fukami. "That's the whole point of a union."
And right now, Local 7 isn't scaring anyone. "My sense is that if they were powerful, they would have struck by now," Fukami says. "It kind of suggests to me that there's a pretty balanced power situation. Neither the stores nor the union can trump the other, so they're just kind of treading water."
After more than six months of negotiations, Safeway and King Soopers submitted their "last, best and final" contract offer to Local 7 on November 16. (The contract would affect nearly all 17,000 grocery workers. The only ones not included are Local 7's 500 Albertson's members; Albertson's has decided not to participate in this round of negotiations, says Local 7 spokeswoman Laura Chapin.)
The offer includes wage increases for some workers, the maintenance of current health-care benefits and what the companies are spinning as a compromise on pension cut-backs.
Rank-and-file members will vote on whether to accept the offer by mail-in ballot, a method that UFCW International has mandated for this round. The ballots were mailed November 27 and will be counted in mid-December.
Duran and Local 7's bargaining committee haven't given a public opinion on the offer. "After six months of negotiations, workers pretty well know what the issues are, and it's up to them. It's their life, their contracts," Chapin says.
Cordova hasn't spoken publicly, either. "I'm just getting up to speed on it," she says of the contract. "I'm not saying I'm not going to make a recommendation. I just barely got the offer. "
If the members reject the contract and bargaining stretches into next year, Cordova will become the chief negotiator, something the grocery chains may like.
"[Safeway and King Soopers] are probably thinking, they got a new president and she comes at a time when we can beat the snot out of her," says Colorado State University management professor Raymond Hogler, who worked for the Mountain States Employers Council decades ago and has known Duran for years. "Ernie was plenty tough. He got battle scars by going on strike. The problem is that if the grocers don't think you mean that, you're not going to get anything from them.
"Maybe she'll demonstrate that she's just as tough as Ernie," he adds, but today's economic realities make negotiating a no-loss contract nearly impossible, even for the most seasoned bargainers. "The circumstances would not be good if you were Henry Kissinger. So she's got a difficult task."
Will Joseph, a Safeway meat-cutter, would rather see Duran in that role. "The companies fear him," Joseph says. "I don't think a bakery clerk scares them whatsoever."
But Cordova is more than a bakery clerk. As one of the union's leaders, she's also become a tough-as-nails bargainer. "I don't need to be an attorney," Cordova says. "I understand. I'm very knowledgeable in the contracts. I know how to negotiate. I've negotiated every day of the year [as a union rep] for sixteen and a half years."
However, Crisanta Duran believes Cordova may have sacrificed the negotiations – and the image of unions as whole – because of her "personal vendetta" against Duran.
"I think [Safeway and King Soopers] sit back and laugh," she says. "If I'm the company negotiator and I have certain goals I want to achieve, like cutting pensions up to 70 percent...and then all of a sudden, at a really crucial time frame, I see on Channel 7 this sort of division in the union and see the fliers in the stores, absolutely, I would sit back and laugh and think, 'Geez, this is fantastic, all of this division.'"
King Soopers spokeswoman Diane Mulligan insists that's not the case.
"The reality is that it has absolutely nothing to do with negotiations," she says. "It doesn't impact it one way or the other. It's internal union business, and we don't have anything to do with internal union business."
A Safeway representative didn't return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
As for the workers, some are frustrated with negotiations, says a Grand Junction City Market employee who runs a blog at http://randomthoughts-gjwriter.blogspot.com/, in which she talks about Local 7's goings-on. "It's been a flippin' nightmare," says the worker, who didn't want to use her name for fear of retaliation by the union. "As long as things are going along okay and we have a contract, nobody is paying attention. They're busy, they're living their lives.