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Fresh & Easy Grocery Comes to Pedro Point; Union is Skeptical

The market's parent company has had a history of strife with U.S. unions

A supermarket opening at Pedro Point Shopping Center next month gives Coastsiders a fresh choice for grocery shopping, but a national union advises caution.

The Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is scheduled to open March 9, offering wholesome and fresh food at affordable prices, but recent conflict with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) raises questions about whether the 20 to 25 Pacifica employees will have trouble joining their peers from Safeway and Lucky in unionizing. 

The 10,000 sq. ft. store is on the site of the former Pacifica Athletic Center. Owned by U.K.-based supermarket giant Tesco, Fresh & Easy is making a debut in Northern California after launching stores in the Los Angeles area, Nevada and Arizona beginning in 2006. Pacifica’s is among 13 Fresh & Easy markets slated to open in the Bay Area this year.

“Fresh-prepared meals are our most popular products, like you make at home,” Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott said, adding that much of the store’s products contain no artificial flavors or colors.

The Pacifica store has been in development for several years, and the company has already improved the Pedro Point Shopping Center significantly, Mayor Mary Ann Nihart said.

“I am thrilled to have a business in town that is the size and caliber of Fresh and Easy,” Nihart said. “The whole shopping center has changed; every aspect is improved. The place is filled.”

Wonnacott said it’s too early to predict the overall economic impact the supermarket will have on Pacifica.

“What we’ve seen for all our stores is that they have served as a catalyst for growth,” he said. “Some of the strip centers had been completely vacant.”

Hiring for the store is under way. Entry-level positions start at $10 an hour with opportunities for health coverage, quarterly bonuses and a 401(k) plan with company match.

The new jobs could make Fresh & Easy among the top employers in Pacifica, based on the city’s 2008–09 comprehensive annual fiscal report.

Tesco’s expansion to the West Coast has not gone off without a hitch, however. Thirteen of the more than 150 Fresh and Easy markets closed in November, after Tesco reported U.S. losses of $151 million.

Employees’ unionization attempts have been stifled, as well. Last year, two administrative law judges, in separate cases, determined that Fresh & Easy had violated the National Labor Relations Act. Tesco has appealed the rulings. Fresh & Easy is also included in an in-depth Human Rights Watch report on European corporations that have violated international law guaranteeing employees’ right to freedom of association. 

“In Europe, Tesco is known for cooperating with unions and a unionized workforce,” said Evan Yeats, a UFCW spokesman based in Washington, D.C. “In the U.S., there is a clear effort [by the company] to do things differently.”

In 2007, during their respective presidential campaigns, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton each sent a letter to Tesco executives after UFCW and community organizations were rebuffed in attempts to meet urging the company to allow unionization of its U.S. workers.

In Pacifica, UFCW represents around 350 workers at Safeway and Lucky. 

The union has also waged a public awareness and action campaign, Fix Fresh & Easy.

In the Human Rights Watch report, a Tesco executive responded to claims that it had aimed for a non-union American workforce:

“We had hoped to have good relations with unions in the U.S.,” Lucy Neville-Rolfe wrote in a letter to Human Rights Watch. “However, it is difficult to develop relations with an organization which has appeared to try to damage our business from day one and has misrepresented the truth about the way Fresh and Easy treats its staff.”

Wonnacott said the company stands by its longstanding commitment to making Fresh and Easy a great place to work, and it supports efforts by employees to unionize. Unfair labor practice (ULP) rulings are commonplace in both union and nonunion businesses, he said, noting more than 2,000 have occurred in the past two years nationwide. 

“The ULP is used as a tactic by unions to persuade employees to join them,” Wonnacott said. 

As part of Fresh & Easy’s rollout in the Bay Area, the company will where it establishes a new store. Customers can nominate nonprofits of their choice, and store employees will select the winning charity.

Fresh & Easy also makes efforts to reduce its environmental footprint by using 30 percent less energy than a typical supermarket, less lighting and advanced refrigeration and freezer units.

Last month, Wonnacott gave a presentation to the Pedro Point Community Association (PPCA) about the new store.

“What we’re excited about is that we’ll have a true walking neighborhood for our needs, without having to get in the car,” association member Sam Casillas said. “They’ll be doing some outreach to get other stores to move in, and that’s rather nice as well.”

Casillas said the group’s main concern about Fresh & Easy involves it attracting additional litter in the area. In response, the store plans to look into placing additional garbage cans nearby. 

Another possible area of concern for PPCA is that Fresh & Easy will ship all of its products from Riverside, CA, at least until the company has enough momentum in Northern California to open a closer distribution center. 

“(We should) buy local as much as it makes sense ,” Casillas said.

Casillas said that the PPCA tends to avoid taking stances on political issues such as unionization, “but as individuals, it would be interesting to find out if workers are getting better deals elsewhere.”

Yeats said Fresh and Easy has strong potential for success if it were to welcome organized labor and more community input.

“Shouldn’t we work together to make things better?” he said.

While Mayor Nihart is not familiar with the issues surrounding UFCW and Fresh & Easy, she is confident that organized labor in San Mateo County is open and fair in working with employers.

Most of all, she looks forward to the opportunity for Pacificans to shop at an affordable specialty supermarket without needing to travel to Trader Joe’s in Daly City.

Fresh & Easy operates all registers as self-checkout but customers may request to have an employee check and bag all items. The store does not accept WIC vouchers. Hours will be 8am–10pm.

Cnith February 17, 2011 at 03:58 PM
well, they're better off not being in a union, especially the same one that safeway is in. I worked for safeway, and believe me, the union only takes your money, doesn't do anything for you. I hope they stay unionless!! If they do, I'll go work there!! $400 to join a useless union plus $30 a month in fees to do nothing is highway robbery!
deborah nagle-burks February 18, 2011 at 06:11 AM
Minimum wage to serve the public and do the 'scut work' of running a supermarket? Disgusting. This is the WalMart of supermarkets. Hey why not import labor from China and pay them #1.00 an hour? What's to keep the owners from doing this? Simply a plane fare? Meanwhile, I know that Safeway has an excellent retirement program. I know women who worked and retired from Safeway who knew they'd never get the same deal from the white collar companies they use to work for in the 80's.
Cnith February 18, 2011 at 05:23 PM
Yeah, IF you worked there for eons... as a new employee two years ago I got JACK SH as retirement, had to wait a YEAR for any insurance to kick in, my wage was $8.50/hr as a cashier (which is the highest paying position before management) and that was AFTER I was there for six months. I wasn't going to see an increase for another year after that. Oh yeah, cry over ten an hour.... uh huh.... Now you know why safeway employees are grumpy!
Cnith February 18, 2011 at 05:25 PM
btw, this sucky plan for safeway was BECAUSE of the union. We paid 30 a month in fees (after the $400 initiation fee) to said union so safeway could screw us over. It was mandatory. No fees, no work. If you were behind, you're screwed. Safeway could not and would not give you hours until you paid your union fees. We COULD NOT strike, ever. It wasn't allowed. And when we complained it went to a file. We were supposed to have stewards come to every meeting we ever had with management but good luck FINDING a steward. NO THANKS... I hope this mart stays the hell away from the union!!
Charlie Whitman February 22, 2011 at 01:03 AM
The bigger grocery store chains are all jokes. You get paid $7.50 to $10.00 an hour, have to wait A YEAR before you get healthcare, have limited 401K availability, its ridiculous. The older employees all have better benefits, the ones who have been there at least 15 years, but if you're a new employee, Fresh And Easy offers the best starting wage scale period. $10.00 an hour with potential for increase and no union dues to pay. Why the hell would anyone want a union representing them anyways? I was almost unfairly transferred to another store, almost 20 miles away from my home because the manager had a vendetta against me. The union rep told me "to not shake things up and that I'll have nicer opportunities at the other store." I went and got a lawyer and the company dropped the matter within days. What the heck was I paying union dues for all these years????
Cnith February 23, 2011 at 04:11 AM
I'm glad to be backed up by Charlie here so it doesn't sound like I have vendetta of my own. They really do suck now.
Jane March 07, 2011 at 01:19 AM
The UFCW isn't painting a fair picture of Fresh & Easy, nor do their employees want to unionize.... We all know there is a process employees can follow should they want representation. Perhaps UFCW the reason why you have been unsuccessful is because Fresh & Easy has made a committment to do right by their employees.... hence, health care benefits, 401K with immediate vesting, bonuses (who gives their hourly employees bonuses anymore). You are a dying breed. And from the previous comments, sounds like you should spend more time and effort fighting for your current members.
Jane March 07, 2011 at 01:22 AM
Collective Bargaining Agreements of today are nothing like those of the 80's. I know someone that just got laid off from Safeway, apparently 6 years wasnt enough seniority to keep her job. Not to mention, do some research! Safeway starts out at Minimum Wage.
eyeon5 March 29, 2011 at 07:23 PM
The UFCW pension is severely underfunded and the UFCW Local5 president has been raiding the strike fund for his own use. Why would anyone pay dues to these thieves? Not a wise investment in your future.
Grinps April 15, 2011 at 04:21 PM
I worked for a union store for over 32 years . When it came time to save my job .The union rep told me I needed to go in with him and fight for it. He did nothing and I lost the job. The unions are useless .They don't want to cause any waves with the companies and only care about taking your money. I think Fresh and Easy is a better way to go...NO UNIOINS!!!

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