Janesville68.1°

Effort to decertify union is driving a wedge into Janesville-based business

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JAMES P. LEUTE
May 9, 2008
— Jack Bandemer refers to his co-workers at the Woodman’s Food Market in Janesville as family.

But there’s trouble in the family, he says.


For that, Bandemer lays the blame on the family’s patriarch, Phil Woodman, and his “union-busting interloper.”


The pair is working hard to rid the Woodman’s stores in Janesville, Beloit and Madison of union representation, Bandemer and others said Thursday at a rally in Janesville. Speakers included lawmakers, union reps and workers, and all drew enthusiastic support from the 200 or so in attendance.


Earlier this year, more than a third of the 950 employees at the stores signed a petition to decertify United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 1473. The petition moved to the National Labor Relations Board for a decision on whether the petition was valid and whether a decertification election should be scheduled. The case has resulted in weeks of testimony, thousands of pages of transcripts and hundreds of exhibits.


It’s also resulted in a volley of charges of unfair labor practices between Woodman’s and the union. Most accuse the other side of unfair tampering and tainting of employees.


Last week, more than 500 Woodman’s employees signed a petition that called for Woodman’s to immediately pull its recognition of Local 1473 as the employees’ bargaining unit.


The union subsequently asked the NLRB to petition a federal court for an injunction that would force Woodman’s to recognize the union. The NLRB still is sorting through the charges and countercharges.


Area lawmakers and members of other unions joined Woodman’s employees and retirees Thursday in calling for an end to Woodman’s “assault on family-supporting jobs.”


Bandemer, who has worked at the Janesville store for 18 years, said that even though employees started the drive to remove the union, it’s been driven by Woodman’s management and its consultant, Fred Grubb, who has “sewn seeds of dissent” in the workforce.


Woodman’s has 12 stores in Wisconsin and Illinois, half of which are represented by unions.


Bandemer acknowledged that wages and benefits are about the same at the union and non-union stores.


But that’s just a Woodman’s tactic to make the union appear ineffective, he said, adding that if Woodman is successful in removing the union, wages and benefits will fall at all stores.


Kim Kutz has been an employee at the Janesville store for 20 years and a union steward for 17. Union-management relations always have been good, she said.


“But now Woodman’s is fighting to get rid of the union.”


Randy Knox worked for Woodman’s for more than 13 years before he was fired a couple of months ago for what he says was his vocal support of the union.


“I always thought that if I came to work on schedule and did my job, I would have job security at the employee-owned Woodman’s,” said Knox, who started as a bagger, worked in the meat department and then drove trucks between Woodman’s stores.


David Newby, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said the workers’ fight is one “against the forces of greed that are trying to turn family-supporting jobs into Wal-Mart jobs.”


Mike Sheridan, president of United Auto Workers Local 95, said the Woodman’s empire started in Janesville and was built on union wages from General Motors and several other union companies.


Sheridan presented Local 1473 with petitions signed by GM workers in support of Woodman’s employees.


“If (Phil Woodman) follows through with this, we will put a hurt on his business not only in Janesville but all over,” Sheridan said.


Grubb, the Woodman’s consultant, was not at the rally.


When asked for a comment on Thursday’s rally, he said: “More than 500 employees signed the most recent petition, and we’re just respecting their wishes.”



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