CLARK, NJ - No sooner had the doors to the new Whole Foods in Clark Commons opened on Friday than a group of picketers gathered along Raritan Road. Eight representatives from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 464A held American flags and wore signs protesting the employment of the store’s non-union workforce.
“We want to let prospective shoppers know that this supermarket operator is operating non-union and that he’s not paying contemporary area wages and not giving contemporary area benefits,” John Niccollai, President of UFCW Local 464A said of the informational picket line. “We’re asking [shoppers] to shop in other union locations.”
UFCW Local 464A represents approximately 20,000 service industry workers primarily in the retail and wholesale foods category. Employees of A&P, Foodtown, Kings, Pathmark, ShopRite and Stop & Shop are represented by UFCW Local 464A and, according to Niccollai, 85 percent of grocery stores in the area employ union workers.
According to teamster.org, informational picketing is “picketing done with the express intent not to cause a work stoppage, but to publicize either the existence of a labor dispute or information concerning the dispute.”
Niccollai said that the presence of non-union stores makes it more difficult for unions to negotiate good contracts on behalf of their workers. “When an employer like Whole Foods comes in, they erode the standard of living for people in the supermarket industry and that’s what we seek to prevent,” he said.
Michael Sinatra, Public Affairs Manager for Whole Foods, responded to these comments by saying, "Whole Foods Market’s goal has always been to create a work environment where team members can succeed to their highest potential. More importantly, our culture supports direct and open communication. One of company’s core values is ensuring team member happiness, and as a result we have earned countless awards as a best place to work, including being named as a FORTUNE Best Company to Work for the 18th consecutive year. Here in Clark, we’re proud to employ more than 200 team members, more than 70 percent of which are full-time, receiving benefits, unlike the rest of the grocery industry where part-time workers are the norm."
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 464A has picketed other Whole Foods locations in New Jersey. In fact, they spent seven years picketing at the Whole Foods on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, NJ, Niccollai said.
Jerry Casale, an employee of Pathmark in Garwood walked the line. “If we didn’t have the union creating the foundation of standards for decent employment," he said, "where would all the workers be?”