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Union files action against Woodman's

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JAMES P. LEUTE
April 16, 2008
— The union representing more than 900 employees at Woodman’s Food Markets in Janesville, Beloit and Madison has accused the chain’s management of improper involvement in an effort to get rid of the union.

United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473 has filed two separate charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board in Milwaukee.


The filings come as the NLRB is trying to determine whether Woodman’s employees can vote on the future of their union.


Earlier this year, an employee at a Woodman’s store in Madison circulated a petition to decertify Local 1473 as the bargaining unit for the employees at the Janesville, Madison and Beloit stores. Weeks of testimony concluded in March, producing more than 3,400 pages of transcripts and hundreds of exhibits that the NLRB will consider before making a ruling on the election.


The central issue in the decertification case is who is and who is not a supervisor at Woodman’s and whether those people should have signed the petition that started the decertification process. Under NLRB rules, supervisors are not eligible to vote, sign or file petitions.


The NLRB could declare the petition invalid if the employees who started or signed the petitions are found to be supervisors. If the petition is found to be valid, a vote to decertify will follow.


But if it comes to a vote, such an election could be delayed by the NLRB’s investigation of the recently filed charges of unfair labor practices.


The first charge, filed March 14, includes 25 allegations ranging from Woodman’s improper involvement and harassment of union workers to threats of deportation if employees engaged in or supported union activities.


The second, filed four days later, charges that Woodman’s illegally fired an employee over his open support of the union.


On April 8, the NLRB received a third charge, this one filed by a Woodman’s employee against the union. The charge said the union harassed employees who wanted to decertify the union and visited their homes with threats of deportation.


Mark Sweet, the attorney representing United Food & Commercial Workers, would not comment specifically on the allegations other than to say they stem from “Woodman’s attempts to get rid of the union.”


Fred Grubb of Grubb Quist & Associates, a consulting firm hired by Woodman’s to represent it before the NLRB, said his client denies the union’s allegations of unfair labor practices.


“The sole purpose of these allegations is to stall or prevent a decertification election from happening,” Grubb said, adding the Woodman’s had no involvement in the decertification process.


“The process was started by the more than 300 employees who signed the petition calling for the decertification election,” he said. “Let them vote.”


Irving Gottschalk, the regional director of the NLRB, said his agency will continue to work toward a ruling on whether to hold the decertification election. Once his decision is made, either side will have two weeks to appeal it to the NLRB in Washington, D.C.


Ultimately, he said, the NLRB will investigate and adjudicate the charges of unfair labor practices as they relate to the decertification process.


“The question is whether the unfair labor practice charges stem from the decertification action,” he said. “Right now, the hearings have been held, and it’s important for us to determine who is a supervisor and who isn’t.”



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