Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Your Cheatin' Heart: The Raley's Strike in Jackson, Part II

Spinning the Strike.
By David Roddy and Michael Israel
Michael Teel
The striking Raley's employees during the November 2012 strike faced the coordinated hostility of consultants hired by the company to negotiate against the union and to present the company's position to the media. The professional background of these consultants is a case study in the flexible networks formed by the power elite in the realms of politics and business, and demonstrates the use of public relations to present the interests of employees as one with their employers.
In December of 2011, one month before the expiration date of the union's contract with Raley's, the Sacramento Bee quoted CEO Michael Teel's “special assistant” Bob Tiernan that cuts to retiree health cuts and the introduction of a high insurance premium "will save the company millions and is critical to our future success." Tiernan established himself in the grocery business as the CEO of Grocery Outlet from 2004 to 2009, which he resigned from to take the position as Oregon's Republican Party chairman. In 2010 he triggered a media scandal by justifying the use of $2000 from the RNC at a West Hollywood topless BDSM club by stating it was an “extremely high-end bar.” As chairman, he was also the chief petitioner for mandatory minimum sentencing in the state, and the odious Measure 17, which made state prisoners work for companies without compensation in “public-private partnerships,” and eliminated any grievance mechanism for “free-workers” downsized from competition with prison labor.

Bob Tiernan
Tiernan's post-political career with the shadowy labor consulting firm “Tiernan & Associates,” demonstrates why Raley's positioned him as their chief negotiator in 2012. In May 2010, Bay Area supermarket Berkeley Bowl hired Tiernan “to design and direct a successful campaign plan to defeat the union campaign,” as well as the “training of supervisors on the law,” with total compensation at the defeat of the union at $65,000. A reelection was called, however, after the union filed forty charges of unfair labor practices during the campaign, including the spying on employees, intimidating, and shooing away the clients of pro-union workers. The union lost the reelection. In March of 2011, workers at the Oregon salon chain Dosha Salon and Spa voted to join Communications Workers of America Local 7901. In response, Dosha hired Tiernan as their labor consultant. Tiernan spoke at a mandatory employee meeting after the election about the company's position on the union:
We want you to know that we are going to run this company as if there’s no union here...As long as all of you continue to do your jobs, that’s what’s good for you...Try to ignore the distraction of the union...You’ve just got to stick to your business.
Picketing stylist at Dosha. Source,
This position implied subservience is always in the worker's best interest. In the following months Dosha committed multiple labor law violations, including verbal threats to active employees, the firing of two pro-union workers, and unilaterally increasing healthcare deductions. A year after the first election, with the loss of the most active pro-union coworkers, the employees voted to decertify the union.

The implicit message sent to Raley's employees by the hiring of a professional union buster was not lost to the strikers,“The union buster made the greed part [of the company’s motives] stand out even trying to convince them [management] that employees are the biggest expense and to take from us” said one striking clerk in Jackson.

John Segale
Raley's hired public relations consultant John Segale as their spokesperson during the dispute. Segale is the founder of Precision Public Relations, which includes “Crisis Communications Training” as a service. “Crisis” is often a euphemism for labor disputes, and the firm is proud of their track record of providing expertise to companies facing boycotts and “labor unrest." In May 2005, Gallo Winery hired Segale as their spokesperson during a dispute with United Farm Workers, whose contract with Gallo was expired two years before. The workers voted to decertify, which a California judge overruled on the grounds that Gallo unlawfully coerced workers to vote against the union. After a breakdown of negotiations, the union organized a boycott of Gallo products to pressure the company to comply with their demands. During the consequent fervor of rank and file activism, Segale asserted that the initial vote to decertify was representative of the workers dissatisfaction with UFW. When UFW voiced their concern over subcontractors hired by Gallo mistreating workers, Segale replied that Gallo had always been worker and union friendly, distancing the company from the conditions of workers hired through farm labor contractors. One incident involved a farm labor contractor housing 29 workers in a small squalid building with no heat, open wiring, and a leaking septic tank.
Marching against Gallo in 2005.
With Segale’s spinning expertise, Raley’s began an aggressive strategy to pressure employees not to strike. Their tactics included one-on-one meetings to urge employees to vote against a strike, as well as mailing instructions on how to best cross a picket-line. Segale worked to maintain the company image during negotiations by creating a narrative for the media that downplayed the strength of the workers and their union. In June, the action was authorized by 96% of voters in the coastal Local 5 and over 80% by the Northern California Local 8. Segale responded by focusing instead on the 30-20% who votes against the strike:
The fact that support for a strike was from 70 percent (to) 80 percent clearly shows that the union’s members do not want a strike because they recognize that Raley’s is making reasonable requests and they know that going on strike can personally devastate them with the loss of jobs, income and benefits.
Teel sent a notice to employees following the vote echoing the message that it was unpopular, “I am very pleased that so many of you bravely voted ‘no'... It is clear that with your support, we will be able to continue operation of most of our stores if the union calls a strike.”

Strikers at the Jackson Raley's
 Segale’s warnings that striking will harm workers during the 2012 Raley’s strike is only slightly reworded from the company line during the 2005 Gallo Winery boycott, where he maintained that the boycott "has the real impact of threatening thousands of union members who work for us."

The struggle of Raley's workers, therefore, is tied to the struggles of farm workers, hair stylists, other grocery workers, and even prisoners forced to labor by a common thread made from the same individuals occupying various positions of power over their careers, justifying the exercise of their power with the same basic message to those beneath them: "continue to do your jobs, that’s what’s good for you"                                  


  1. I am not "the right". I am, however, cognizant of business and finance. I don't need to be told that it's good to do and keep the food service job that supports our household, but thank the gods it is not a union job. I never personally encountered union thugs until the Raley's strike in Auburn, when my husband and I were called scabs because we had the nerve to shop there, instead of obeying strikers. The bottom line is that America's health care system is not affordable by the people or by businesses such as Raley's, and the health insurance mafia will ensure that its CEOs get their vulgar salaries - and the hell with Raley's or the insured whose claims are denied. I am expecting Raley's to go out of business over this. I guess those who support the union and the strike think this is okay, but I don't know how they can delude themselves if they find themselves without a job at a wonderful store and work environment as Raley's, and have to grovel at some hellish place of employment. Because I don't want to shop elsewhere, I will always remember this union strike and oppose unions.

    1. That was one of the most incoherent reasons for opposing unions I’ve ever heard… The American Healthcare system is expensive… therefore everyone needs to shut the hell up? Oh! And you should never try to improve your work environment or contract because that makes you ungrateful, and we should all adopt a sweatshop work ethic and learn not to complain. Yeah, awesome points there.
      Just fess up, you crossed the line during a contract dispute. Shopping during a strike innately puts you on the side of the company and against the worker. If you are upset that you got called a scab, maybe you shouldn’t have crossed the picket line being held by the people that pack your groceries!