Foodlink staffers to unionize

Staffers from Foodlink Inc. are banding together to form a union, according to a statement Tuesday.

A majority of Foodlink employees have joined together to form Foodlink United with Office & Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153 in response to “increased demand of food services, health risks from COVID-19 and continued understaffing,” according to the statement. The members of Foodlink United have asked Foodlink management to voluntarily recognize the union today, with a deadline for response by Thursday, Oct. 28, at 5 p.m.

“In the event that management doesn’t recognize Foodlink United, OPEIU Local 153 will file for an official election on their behalf with the National Labor Relations Board,” according to the statement.

“Foodlink represents a diverse group of compassionate people who all believe in a common mission: to end hunger and build healthier communities. Caring about and investing in people is what we do and who we are — and that starts within the workplace we share,” said Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco. “Unions serve an important role to protect workers, particularly in companies where profit is the bottom line and people are not put first. Although I do not believe we need a union to accomplish our shared goals, I hear, respect and honor the voices of those team members who feel differently. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to ensure that every voice is heard.”

“No one is more committed to Foodlink’s mission of ending hunger than we are, and forming a union demonstrates our commitment to Foodlink’s values. We put our lives on the line to feed our neighbors during a global pandemic. We have a deep and intimate understanding of our programs and services and what we need to be successful in carrying them out,” Foodlink United members said in the statement. “We have more than 130 combined years of service to this organization; it is this expertise and experience that drives our collective decision-making. We are forming a union to ensure safety, stability, solidarity and a seat at the table.”

Tedesco noted that in recent years, Foodlink has proactively increased pay and covers 100 percent of employees’ health and dental insurance premiums.

“We have expanded bonuses, paid time off, hardship supports and committed to being as flexible and accommodating as possible during the ongoing public health crisis. We have increased investments in employee safety, career empowerment, professional development and training,” she added. “Lastly, we began a two-year process with the formation of three internal teams — comprising people from all levels of the organization — that examine our practices through the lens of equity.

“So much of this work has been driven by collaboration and direct dialogue at Foodlink,” she said. “I fully believe we can continue to solve our challenges — and best serve our communities — through direct dialogue and a fierce adherence to our values, mission and call to justice.”

This is not the first time Foodlink has had a union. From late 1993 until March 1995, prior to Tedesco’s appointment as president and CEO, Foodlink employees were part of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU withdrew from the nonprofit in 1995 to stave off a decertification vote, then Local 1199 President Bruce Popper told the RBJ at the time.

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Adjunct faculty move to unionize at Nazareth College

Demonstration for adjunct faculty at Nazareth College. (Diana Louise Carter)
Demonstration for adjunct faculty at Nazareth College. (Diana Louise Carter)

Adjunct faculty at Nazareth College today filed a notice with the National Labor Relations Board that they intend to have an election to consider joining a union to represent them.

A demonstration of approximately 30 people, including adjunct faculty, full-time faculty, students and union organizers, was held just outside the center gate of the campus on East Avenue before the group walked a petition to Nazareth President Daan Braveman’s office. Braveman was out of town but provided a statement saying, in part, “Nazareth respects and supports each part-time faculty member’s right to make a personal decision about participation in union activity.”

The union under consideration is Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 200United.

Before the brief march, several people made statements, including Colleen Wolf, a second-year adjunct in the music department who juggles two other jobs to support herself and her two sons.

Like other faculty, Wolf said she loves teaching at Nazareth, but finds it financially straining.

“It’s very hard for me to think about my future and how I’m going to be able to continue doing this,” Wolf said. She noted that because she’s a widow, her children receive Social Security benefits that help support the family. When they turn 18, however, those benefits will cease and Wolf said she doesn’t know how she’ll make up the difference.

“I don’t think the person teaching should be the person who can afford to teach here, it should be the best teacher for the job,” she said.

Union organizers and adjunct faculty said approximately 300, or about two thirds of the faculty at Nazareth, are adjunct faculty who are paid about $2,700 to teach a three-credit course. Their pay doesn’t include office hours and there are no benefits such as health care or paid professional development.

Music professor Josh Massicot described writing a textbook on his own time – rather than during a paid sabbatical as full-time staff do – and then having to pay his own way to attend a conference to make a presentation on his work.  No matter how much recognition adjuncts may earn professionally, Massicot said, they have no job security. “We remain appointed on a semester-by-semester basis.”

Student Katie Thomas, a senior theater major, told the group she is supporting the teachers because “adjuncts have been so integral to my success here at Nazareth College. Most of my dance professors and one of my theater professors are adjuncts who have shaped me into the woman and artist I am today.”

Organizer Jake Allen said while adjunct pay is an issue at most colleges and universities that have shifted to teaching the majority of their courses with part-time staff, Nazareth is a particular focus because it pays less than other schools for adjunct teaching.

“In many cases, people can make more working even at MCC, than a school like Nazareth where students are paying $46,000 a year for the privilege of going there,” Allen said.

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Tops Friendly Markets reportedly seeks advice on bankruptcy

Tops Friendly Markets is contemplating bankruptcy reorganization in an attempt to get out from under debt incurred from a series of profit skimming steps over the last decade, according to published reports.

The union representing employees at approximately 170 stores, United Food and Commercial Workers Local One, released a statement saying it has been in talks with attorneys counseling them about potential impacts on workers of bankruptcy since January.

“As reported earlier, the company has hired Evercore (a global independent private investment firm) to help them restructure their enormous debt,” said the statement from Frank DeRiso, union president.

The company has changed hands at least twice in the last decade and doubled in size. According to Bloomberg, Morgan Stanley tried to recoup costs of its 2007 takeover by rapidly expanding the chain, founded in Williamsville, Erie County, nearly a century ago. The Great Recession and competition from new players in the grocery industry made it difficult to reap profits from expanding from 71 to 150 stores in six years. Morgan Stanley rewarded shareholders with dividends anyway, borrowing even more money, Bloomberg reported.

Management of the chain bought Tops back from Morgan Stanley and its investors in 2013, but still faced major debt. Since then some stores have closed and others were streamlined, but the chain is still wrangling with debt.

A company spokesperson could not be reached for comment. Tops stores are located in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

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