UFCW 655 won election but Goodwill stalled talks on first contract; decertification vote under way after major smear campaign
By ED FINKELSTEIN
St. Louis MERS Goodwill is engaged in a vicious, deceptive, anti-union campaign aimed at destroying efforts by UFCW Local 655 to improve wages and working conditions for employees at Goodwill’s Festus, Mo. store, the first in America to be organized.
After winning a representation election last year by an 80 percent majority, Local 655 is now fighting a vicious decertification effort by MERS Goodwill that includes the company using every dirty, anti-union trick in the book to try to convince employees to give up their union representation.
This union-busting effort by MERS Goodwill includes:
• Having an anti-union worker soliciting decertification signatures with distortions and half-truths about union.
• Distributing a flyer to try to sway votes against Local 655 with falsehoods – saying the International Union spent money for golf, without noting that it was a charity fundraising tournament; and saying the union spent “thousands” in Las Vegas, without explaining the money was for a nationwide International Union convention and officers’ training program required held every five years to update officers on changes to federal Labor law.
“It’s yet another tactic used to try to trick our members into believing our local is somehow not being fiscally responsible,” said Local 655 Director of Organizing Billy Myers.
“None of it had to do with Local 655 and how it spends its dues monies because the local is a good steward of members’ money and all expenditures have to be approved by the union’s executive board, half of which are rank-and-file members.”
MERS Goodwill’s anti-union tactics have succeeded in collecting enough signatures to force a mail-in decertification election. Ballots were mailed out Dec. 14, and employees have until Jan. 11, 2021 to return their ballots. So much for holiday good will.
‘DISGUSTING’ BUSINESS MODEL
“This is disturbing, disgusting and heart breaking that a company that portrays its business model as helping workers in truth has a business model that undermines the will of its workers, preventing them from moving up to a better quality of life,” said Local 655 President David Cook.
“While right now this is the action of one location, you can be sure this is truly the business model they have across the country,” Cook added, noting that “If they continue to practice this ‘put the workers down’ model in St. Louis, the public everywhere will soon understand that what Goodwill is about is NOT good will, but bad will against their workers.”
CAMPAIGN OF FALSEHOODS CONTINUES
Meanwhile, MERS Goodwill is continuing its false campaign against the union, trying to trick workers into voting against their own best interests by rejecting Local 655 as their bargaining agent with direct mail and a forced mandatory workers’ meeting held last week.
CEO MAKES BIG BUCKS, WORKERS GET THE CRUMBS
While Goodwill workers are paid an average of $11 an hour, Goodwill’s CEO David Kutchback earns $217 an hour. In fact, Kutchback, earning $435,175 a year, is the fifth highest paid non-profit CEO in the St. Louis area, according to the latest St. Louis Business Journal report on non-profit executive salaries.
Interesting enough, the Business Journal reported that the average pay among all the highest paid non-profit executives was $200,557, making Kutchback’s pay 117 percent HIGHER.
But even that is not enough for him. Adding insult to injury, i 2018 Goodwill ended bonuses for workers but NOT for their executives. In 2018 Kutchback got a $150,000 bonus and a $100,000 bonus in 2019. MERS Goodwill bills itself as a non-profit focused on helping workers, but actions speak louder than words.
“The community needs to understand that this CEO is living high off the backs of their workers,” Cook said. Now, he says, “Everything is on the table. We’ve tried to work with them in good faith, but enough is enough!”
With an 80 percent “YES” vote to join Local 655 by Festus store employees last year, the union has spent the past 12 months trying to get a first contract as the company has stalled, and stalled, and stalled.
In a supervisor’s meeting held before the original vote, Kutchback bragged to his supervisors that should the union win, he could stall negotiations for years. Under federal Labor law, after one year without a contract, a newly organized shop can vote to decertify if the majority of employees can be tricked into doing so.
Kutchback provided a great deal of false information at that meeting to help supervisors mislead their workers –– such as that union dues could range up to $700 in the first year. (In truth, dues would only be $1.07 a day, and only begin after ratification of a contract.) and didn’t mention that the dues cover the cost of providing staff and support services to fight for the workers, process grievances like one the union won for employee Nicole Robinson (see separate story at left) and conduct negotiations to win better wages and benefits.
Lies, pressure, deception – that’s Kutchback’s idea of helping workers?
Reality vs. fiction at MERS Goodwill
The hypocrisy of MERS Goodwill’s CEO David Kutchback was evident in a stark comparison of what he believes is best for his employees and the reality of what really is best for the workers.
In a meeting with supervisors designed to provide false information prior to last year’s union certification vote, Kutchback told supervisors their employees would be better off dealing with him one-on-one, either in person or on the phone, rather than having a union representative (his term, an “outsider”) stand with workers who would have a complaint.
Talking with him directly is “in their (workers’) best interest,” he said.
Tell that to Nicole Robinson, a three-year sales associate who was suspended for three days without pay because she was talking about the union on the job – which is protected by Labor law. Her supervisor was trying to get her fired for it.
Robinson took her grievance to Local 655 and the union won three days back pay for her – $276 – for being illegally suspended.
“If I didn’t have the union, I wouldn’t have known they (MERS Goodwill) were wrong and that I had a legal right to fight it,” the mother of two told the Labor Tribune. “The union helped me.”
Employees fight back
Despite the year-long harassment MERS Goodwill workers have suffered at the hands of anti-union management in their fight to win a first contract, employees have spoken out.
A letter signed by 19 of 21 workers calls on the MERS Board of Directors to do what’s right and humane:
“It’s simply wrong that employees like us, working full time, should rely on government assistance to support our families. We are single parents, we are families that have had to ask for government assistance to pay for food, utilities and the roof over our heads.
“We are not lazy. We don’t want a handout and we don’t want charity. We work full-time and we want to earn our way through life, but that’s become impossible when our company cares more about lining their pockets by selling off donated items.
“The employees of MERS Goodwill are begging you to sign a pledge agreeing that we deserve a living wage and to be treated fairly at our workplace.”
CAN YOU MAKE A CALL TO HELP?
If you should know one of them, a word of support would be helpful. They are:
• Board officers: Chairperson Tani Wolff, Vice Chairperson George Philips, 2nd Vice Chairperson Michael Iskiwitch, Treasurer Gerald Kretmar, Ass’t. Treasurer Quentin Williams, Secretary Lynn Rothbarth and Ass’t. Secretary Julie Zuick.
• 2021 Directors: Edda Berti, Judith Gall, Barry Ginsburg, Elizabeth Green, Dorian Hobbs, Scott Howze, Darryl Jones, Paul Kravitz, Kraig Kreikemeier, Robert Lefton, Louis Loebner, Carla R. Moore, Harry Moppins, Jr., James Mosqueda, Joan Newman, David Pickerill, Kenneth Salky, Barry Sharon, Jay Summerville, Christopher Tabourne and Elliot Zucker.