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Woodman's union challenged

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JAMES P. LEUTE
January 25, 2008
— With their contract set to expire in mid-March, about 1,000 employees of Woodman’s Food Market in Janesville, Beloit and Madison soon will learn if their union will be around to negotiate on their behalf.

That’s because a petition successfully made the rounds at the four stores to decertify United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473 as the employees’ bargaining unit.


At least 30 percent of the represented workers signed the petition, which was forwarded to the Milwaukee office of the National Labor Relations Board.


The NLRB conducted a hearing Thursday in Madison, where an examiner heard testimony from those involved, said Irving Gottschalk, the NLRB’s regional director in Milwaukee.


The examiner will weigh the testimony and recommend within a couple weeks either that the NLRB dismiss the petition or schedule a date for employees to vote on decertification of the union.


UFCW 1473 is the largest local union in Wisconsin and represents more than 16,000 members in a variety of industries, including those in food stores.


Decertification proceedings are not rare. Several hundred are initiated each year around the country, and they typically pop up as contracts near expiration.


Employees who no longer want a union typically trigger them. In circulating a petition for a decertification election, employees can’t get help from their employer, which the union likely would charge as an unfair labor practice tainting the election.


In addition to workers at Woodman’s in Janesville and Beloit, the petition before the NLRB covers employees at two Woodman’s stores in Madison.


Union-represented workers at other Woodman’s locations are not involved, primarily because they are on different contract cycles, one local employee said.


The employee, who requested anonymity, said he’s worked at Woodman’s for years and is generally pleased with his union representation.


“The people at Wal-Mart would love to have what we have,” he said.


The worker said he believes Woodman’s majority owners and managers are driving the decertification process. He hopes the process is derailed because petitions were circulated in the stores while employees were on the clock, which he said is a violation of the NLRB rules governing the process.


The Janesville Gazette was not able to reach John Eiden, president of UFCW 1473, or Phil Woodman, Woodman’s president and chief executive officer.


In addition to the four stores involved in the NLRB hearing, Woodman’s operates four other stores in Wisconsin and three in Illinois.


Woodman’s, which is owned in part by its employees, will open its 12th store in April in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. Last week, Woodman’s announced plans in Sun Prairie to build a 225,000-square-foot grocery store, a 2,000-square-foot convenience store with 10 gas pumps, an oil and lube center and a car wash.



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