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Woodman’s union hearing continued

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JAMES P. LEUTE
February 4, 2008
— Hearings over the legitimacy of a petition to decertify the union that represents workers at Woodman’s Food Markets in Janesville, Beloit and Janesville will continue next week.

In late January, the National Labor Relations Board had an initial hearing on the petition to decertify United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473 as the employees’ bargaining unit.


To move to the NLRB, the petition needed signatures from at least 30 percent of the 900-plus union workers at the four stores.


The hearing will continue Tuesday, Feb. 12.


“The union said it needed more information,” said Woodman’s President Phil Woodman. “We said come and get it.”


Woodman said the union asked for records and files on each of the 2,100 or so employees at the 11 Woodman’s stores in Wisconsin and Illinois.


Once the NLRB concludes its hearings, it will decide whether or not the petition is valid. If it’s ruled valid, the petition could lead to a vote to decertify Local 1473 as the bargaining unit for the employees, whose contract expires in March.


“We’re going to do what the employees tell us to do,” Woodman said. “We’re going to do what’s in the best interests of the employees.”


The Janesville, Beloit and two Madison stores were the first for the Janesville chain. Stores in Onalaska and Appleton also are unionized, but those employees are on a different contract cycle.


After those six stores, Woodman’s opened non-union stores in Kenosha, Green Bay, Rockford, Carpentersville, Ill. and North Aurora, Ill.


Woodman’s will open its 12th store in April in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. It, too, will be non-union.


Woodman said store employees decide whether they will have union representation.


But several Woodman’s employees commenting on The Janesville Gazette’s Web site, www.gazettextra.com, have said Woodman’s management carefully selects employees to transfer to new stores, slanting the field away from union representation.


They’ve also expressed concern that a decertification vote for the Janesville, Beloit and Madison stores could be swayed by employees at the two Madison stores, one of which was the supposed birthplace of the current decertification efforts. Employees at those stores, they said, tend to be shorter-term with less loyalty to the union.


Comments about wages and bonuses paid to Woodman’s employees also have been a common thread on the Gazette’s Web site.


While Woodman said there isn’t much difference in wages for union and non-union employees, he declined to address differences in annual bonuses paid to the two employee groups.


Woodman’s is employee-owned

If Woodman’s employees are Woodman’s owners, why are they considering efforts to bag the union that represents them?


In reality, the situation comes down to degrees of ownership and day-to-day control.


“We are 100 percent employee-owned,” said Phil Woodman, president of the company and a member of the grocery store chain’s founding family.


Technically, Woodman is correct, and the chain’s employee ownership has become a hallmark of its advertising campaigns.


But ownership of the company doesn’t necessarily equate with its management.


Woodman said his family owns 35 percent of the company, and the family members all are Woodman’s employees.


Other employees, he said, own the remaining 65 percent through an employee stock ownership plan that shares profits and dividends with employees.


Top management includes Woodman family members a few non-family members that together control more than 50 percent of the company, some Woodman’s employees have speculated.



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