By Don McIntosh
Workers who make bread for Grand Central Bakery in Portland voted to unionize Dec. 12 in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board. The 29-to-9 vote affirmed what the workers had told management three weeks earlier: Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco, and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Local 114 has the support of a majority of the workers at the company’s wholesale bakery at 2249 NW York St.
For now, just the 44 bakers and dishwashers at that location will be union-represented. Working three shifts a day, they make all the Grand Central bread and rolls sold in local Fred Meyer, QFC, Whole Foods, and New Seasons Market stores. The company’s 12 retail locations, its NE Fremont pastry bakery, and its Seattle wholesale bakery, remain nonunion, but supporters of the new-born union at the Portland wholesale bakery have given workers at all other locations an open invitation to join the union effort. Grand Central employs about 460 workers in all.
In the weeks before the union election, a company-wide memo told all employees not to talk to the press. It even directed them to ask TV camera crews to leave the property … if any showed up. Nor did the company respond to messages from the Northwest Labor Press.
But a spokesperson for the union committee explained some of why workers want a union. Wages of $16.43 to $21.42 an hour are far lower than union-represented bakers at Franz and Bimbo/Oroweat, who make over $25 an hour. Opportunities for advancement and raises are limited. Complaints of sexual harassment have been poorly handled by management. And workers have no say over changes that affect them. Safety is also a big concern, said the Grand Central worker, who asked not to be named. Workers use buckets to scoop a pre-ferment called poolish out of 500-pound mixing bowls, and that can lead to injuries.
The union campaign launched at the busiest time of the year for the company, and yet for four days, Grand Central Bakery managers pulled workers off the floor half a crew at a time for special meetings to try to talk them out of unionizing.
“If you become this union, we are not able to deal with you directly regarding your wages, hours, employment,” CEO Claire Randall said at a Dec. 6 employee meeting, according to a word-for-word transcript of the meeting produced by one of the workers present. [See below.]
Note to Randall: That’s kind of the point of unionizing, isn’t it? Workers feel that dealing one-on-one with managers hasn’t produced satisfactory results, so now they’ll try to deal with management collectively. As the slogan workers picked for their campaign lays it out: “United we bargain, divided we beg.”
SAID THE CEO TO THE WORKERS …
With an assist from technology, a witness to Grand Central Bakery’s Dec. 6 anti-union meeting was able to produce a rough word-for-word transcript of what was said. It’s rare to have so complete a record of what’s said in an anti-union meeting. What follows is an edited excerpt of the part of the meeting in which Grand Central Baking CEO Claire Randall gave her initial presentation.
Claire: I am going to be presenting our perspective and some information about the vote, and I will be referring to notes. I didn’t have enough time to prepare to have everything memorized, and I want to be sure I don’t miss any important points, so forgive me if it’s a little bit stilted. And for all of us, when we open up the floor for conversation, let’s just be aware that we have Maria translating, and speak reasonably, clearly and slowly.
We’ve scheduled this meeting to address the issue of the possible unionization of the Portland bakers and dishwashing employees. As you know, the BCTGM has filed a petition to become your union representative. If you become this union, we are not able to deal with you directly regarding your wages, hours, employment. There will be a secret ballot election Thursday. We want to have a transparent discussion with you about whether representation by this union is in your best interest.
This section is about how we would like to run this meeting. During the first part of the meeting we will be offering our thoughts and perspectives about union representation. No questions and comments ’til the end. While we acknowledge some of you have strong feelings, it’s important to show common courtesy. That applies to all of us, whether sentiments are positive or negative. We assure you that we aren’t recording or videotaping. We think this gets in the way of free flowing discussion and can prevent people from saying what they’d otherwise feel comfortable saying. Please don’t record us either. No one is allowed audio or video.
We’re committed to keeping this meeting consistent to all legal parameters. We acknowledge your rights to voice favorable opinions or unfavorable toward the union. We also have the right of free speech under the law to express our thoughts and opinions on the union. The law prevents threats, reprisals, promises of benefits. We fully support and agree with this principle. Please don’t think anything we say is a threat or promise. We support your right to choose to unionize or not unionize.
You will be called upon next Thursday to exercise the right to vote in a secret ballot election supervised by NLRB, the federal agency that handles matters like this. Your vote and right to vote is extremely important. You’re voting on the future welfare of yourself and your coworkers. Not voting is letting others decide for you. Your vote should be an informed vote. The outcome of the election will be determined by a majority of those who vote. If only 20 vote and 11 vote for representation, all 44 will be unionized. If you don’t vote, you are leaving a very important decision to others. The election is by secret ballot, which also means no one will know how each individual votes. You can vote ‘no’ even if you signed a card.
You should know per our request, the ballot will be in English and Spanish.
It’s important to know that unions advocate for improved wages, benefits, conditions of employment. They’re also an organization whose source of income is dues and fees. The payment of dues is not optional under most union contracts with private employers. The union will make promises of what they can do. Despite this, they cannot guarantee anything related to conditions of employment. On the other hand, we cannot make promises.
There are several things unions are not. They’re not the source of your pay and benefits. They’re not responsible for providing you a safe work environment. They don’t spend their resources on work safety. They don’t provide job security.
Do your interests really align with this union? Find out what it means to be represented by them. Ask what it means to have them negotiating your pay hours and benefits. We would lose the ability to work directly with you on these issues.
Sometimes we can lose sight of how critical and vital teamwork is to our own success. We should all be against a divided workplace. Us versus them is counterproductive. Unionization pushes for division between us, as if we all can’t work together toward reasonable solutions. I think we’re better than this. Accusations are being made that we dismiss and ignore safety concerns, tolerate sexual harassment, mistreat employees, have substandard wages — all simply false. Those words, “dismiss,” “ignore,” “tolerate,” “mistreat,” are used to inflame emotion, divisiveness and mistrust. Negative messaging steers away from cooperation and negatively affects morale.
We built Grand Central Bakery together. Teamwork is our strength and our best opportunity to have a positive impact on our workplace.