“Giant Ain’t The G They Used to Be,” chanted D.C. hip hop artist Head Roc at a rally Wednesday afternoon at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ national headquarters. In front of the IBT steps, GAP joined hundreds of grocery and warehouse workers in protest of recent moves by industry that affront worker rights and food integrity.
The protest was part of a campaign in response to alarming actions by global grocery corporation Royal Ahold (which owns Giant, Stop & Shop, and Martins) and C&S Wholesale Grocers, two of the most prominent members of the Food Marketing Institute. Head Roc’s rap retold the story of how once local, neighborhood store Giant Food has become a model of corporate greed, subcontracting C&S (the largest wholesale grocery distributor in the country) to make Ahold/Giant more profits by moving food distribution jobs to low-wage, non-union warehouses. Ahold (via C&S) has already closed facilities in several cities, including laying off over 1,300 New Jersey warehouse workers in February 2011. Many of these unemployed victims bussed down to Wednesday’s rally in support of the workers in Maryland and D.C. who may now lose their jobs in light of a warehouse shutdown in Jessup, MD.
Community leaders from several groups spoke at the rally, including a number of local Teamsters, United Food & Commercial Workers, Empower DC, and a trade federation that represents Royal Ahold workers in Europe. Across the street from the Teamsters building, the Food Marketing Institute was having its annual public policy meeting at the Hyatt Regency hotel, planning for its continued lobbying against legislation that supports workers, such as paid sick leave and the ability to form unions.
“Thank you for letting those guys over there know the truth about what we represent,” said Amanda Hitt, GAP’s Food Integrity Campaign director, addressing the lively crowd. “Today we fought for the integrity of food with you. We fought for the consumer, who deserves to have food that comes from union workers, warehouses and distribution.”
Leading up to the protest, GAP joined Teamsters staff and Giant Food employees on Capitol Hill to tell members of Congress why the loss of union jobs translates into threats to food safety. A common discussion with legislative staff throughout the morning was the fact that Giant workers (and union members) never felt the need to bring complaints to GAP.
“If something is wrong with my load, I won’t send it out,” said a trucker who delivers food products to and from a Giant warehouse. “I don’t have to worry about losing my job over it.”
Conditions under the Teamster union contracts provide their own form of whistleblower protections, where food safety is a priority and workers have a voice without fear of retaliation. But the purpose of C&S outsourcing is to specifically destroy union jobs and the benefits in place that ensure this frontline inspection set-up.
Union organizing is continually under threat, including in the fast food industry, as seen by the recent firings of workers at the Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, who have been campaigning for paid sick days.
But the attack on unions must stop. The direct connection between good working conditions and safe food is illustrated in the letter GAP and IBT jointly delivered to senators and representatives:
The right to join unions and bargain for better conditions at work, free from coercion, is a fundamental democratic right, and a tool for protecting food safety. Workers who have job security protections can report food safety problems to management, or to inspectors, regulators or the public itself. Furthermore, collective bargaining contracts generally include health and safety and health care provisions that can lead to a healthier, more stable workforce.
In the meantime, GAP is here for those who don’t enjoy collective agreements. Would-be whistleblowers in the grocery industry that are non-union employees face a higher risk when speaking out against problems they witness on the job. GAP’s Food Integrity Campaign will continue to support these truth-tellers in trucking and distribution (which is also now covered by the Food Safety Modernization Act) in order to ensure a safe food supply.
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.