Thursday, July 12, 2012

Effect of unions

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In the winter of 15, after 15 months of negotiations, the neww1y unionized workers at a Kmart distribution center in Greensboro, North Carolina were still far from securing their first contract with the Kmart Corporation � and were growing dispirited. The leaders of the Kmart local, mostly young and African American, had fought energetically for more favorable working conditions and increased salaries at the plant for more than two years. In surprisingly rapid and decisive fashion � given a strong anti-union sentiment in North Carolina � they had unionized the distribution center in September of 1, ~ Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU).l


Though jubilant at this victory, the Kmart union leaders soon realized that, although they had won a major battle, they were far from winning the war. Contract negotiations moved slowly, and the union leaders came to believe that the Kmart management team had no intention of agreeing to any contract. The Kmart local tried assorted strategies to pressure the company � work stoppages inside the distribution center, pickets, a sit-in and even a week-long strike during the busy holiday season. Still, by~t1~Iesummer of 15, they were far from settling the contract.


In early 15, ACTWU Southern Regional Director Bruce Raynor joined the contract talks as lead negotiator. ACTWU also deployed a southern organizer, Anthony Romano, to work with


l In July 15, ~CTWU and the International ~dies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) merged to create the


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Union of Needle Trades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).


Kma~ denied the charge and said contract negotiations dragged on because the worker demands were unreasonable


This case was written by Pamela Varley for Marshall Ganz, Instructor in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard. Universit~j (0600)


Kmart Union in Greensboro Fights for a Contract (A)____________________________ C15-00-160.0


the Kmart local, and a field representative, Ben Hensler, to help build community support for their effort. Although impressed with the commitment and organizing skill of the leadership inside the plant, ACTWU leaders knew that building support for the union in Greensboro would be an uphill battle. Mainstream public opinion in this quiet, moderate-to-conservative community ran against unions. What’s more, some of the union’s early efforts to embarrass and pressure Kmart had met indignation and even animosity from the Greensboro press and civic leaders. It seemed unlikely that the broader Greensboro community could ever be brought into sympathy with the union effort.


Background


Kmart first began hiring workers to operate its huge, state-of �the-art distribution center in April 1. There in a sprawling, flat roofed facility the size of 5 fields Kmart s hard goods”4 were received, stored, repacked and distributed to more than 150 Kmart stores in five southern states. In all, the retail giant operated 1 hard-line distribution centers across the country.


When Kmart had announced its interest in building a distribution facility in Greensboro in 18, the city’s business and civic leaders had been pleased. The city enjoyed a special relationship with Kmart, the nation’s second largest retailer. In 188, Kmart had become the chief corporate sponsor of one of Greensboro’s proudest annual traditions � the Greater Greensboro Open. This tournament was part of the Professional Golf Association tour, was nationally televised and afforded the city one of its few opportunities for national visibility. In addition, a large portion of the profits from the GGO went to the Greensboro “Jaycees,” or Junior Chamber of Commerce, a community service organization made up of young adults, aged 1 to . The Greensboro chapter of the Jaycees was one of the most active in the nation, and was a source of pride to many in the community. Since Kmart had begun to sponsor the GGO, profits from the event had surged; in five years, the Open had raised more than $4 million for the Jaycees’ programs and charities.


What’s more, Greensboro’s economic development policy specifically encouraged the development of distribution centers in Greensboro, a city with easy access to highways in several directions. Distribution centers did not require much water�a limited resource�and they provide relatively stable employment, unlike some manufacturing concerns with erratic employment needs. The Kmart distribution center would provide an estimated 500 jobs to blue collar workers in the Greensboro area. To encourage Kmart to bring its distribution center to Greensboro, Guilford County and the City of Greensboro agreed to move sewer lines to


In the labor dispute between the Kmart local and Kmart management, there were many disagreements both of fact and of interpretation. The purpose of this case is to describe the strategic thinking of the workers and their allies at different moments in the three-year effort. Though many of the workers’ claims�and Kmart’s counterclaims--are necessarily included, this case does not endeavor to assess their validity, nor are students expected to do so.


Kmart’s soft goods�clothing and linens, for example�were stored, packed and shipped in a separate network of distribution centers.


Kmart Union in Greensboro Fights for a Contract (A)____________________________ C15-00-160.0


accommodate the facility, at a cost of $65,000. In addition, the state Department of Transportation agreed to spend $800,000 on a new road interchange.5


Kmart located its distribution center on Greensboro’s eastside�home to the city’s low and moderate income African American neighborhoods. (Just under a third of Greensboro’s population was black; the remainder was mostly white.) From the spring through the fall of 1, Kmart gradually staffed up its distribution center, opened all its departments, and hired workers to three shifts. Initially, the work force was mostly young and male. About two thirds of the line staff were racial or ethnic minorities � mostly black. Many were struggling financially; many were juggling at least one other job, according to Robyn Estes, who began working third shift in/ the fall of 1. Like a number of Kmart employees, she was working by night and attending classes by day. For the first few months of operation, the starting wage was $5.75 per hour, but turnover at the plant was rapid and some of the most experienced job applicants turned down jobs at that wage. Kmart raised its base wage to $6.75 in September 1. Line workers who stayed at Kmart three years would gradually see their earnings increase to the top wage of $8.50 per hour.6 Full-time Kmart workers were also eligible for major medical and dental insurance, a disability plan and a retirement plan.


When Kmart opened its doors, hundreds of workers lined up to apply for the jobs, attracted by the familiar Kmart name and the hope of secure, long-term work in a large, professionally-run corporation. As Dave B1um, a merchandise packer, told a reporter, “I knew Kmart was a big corporation, and I knew they sponsored the GGO, and I’d shopped in their stores. I figured they’d probably be a good company to work for. I figured there’d be a future there.”7


In subsequent interviews, leaders in the Kmart union described a litany of problems in the distribution center, dating to the earliest days of operation.8 The facility began its operations before construction was complete, and for the first several months of operation, workers reported having to use dirty and ill-maintained port-a-johns and contending with stifling heat and inadequate access to drinking water inside the plant. Although Kmart gradually rectified the worst of these problems, workers reported ongoing difficulties with the management of the facility. The biggest problem, they said, was a climate in which managers freely bullied and insulted workers. Some attributed the problems to a clash of styles between a Southern workforce and managers who came to Greensboro from northern states. Workers complained that managers pressured them to work faster, and lift more weight than they safely could lift. Worker injuries were frequent, they said, and injured workers were sometimes denied medical care and ordered to continue work. A policy strictly limiting the amount of sick or personal time a worker could claim in the first three months


of employment in many firings, which many workers regarded as manifestly unfair. “I saw a log of good friends of mine get fired for no reason at all,” said Governor Spencer, who took a job at Kmart in May 1 and later became a leader and frequent spokesperson for the union. “When someone is fired, there’s someone home depending on that paycheck. You’re not just firing that individual, you’re firsting their husband, whatever. And it seemed {that to the manager} it was fun and games.” Turnover at the ldistribution center was very high, according to Estes; of the 5 people in her “orientation” classs only two were left after 0 days.


Kmart union leaders say that, right from the beginning, there was also a distinct undercurrent of racial tension in plant operations. Especially in the early days, nearly all top managers and most line managers were white. As a rule, they said, white workers were treated as badly as black workers; in fact, young white women were frequently singled out for bullying. But top managers turned a blind eye to complaints of racially offensive language and behavior, they said, andl ignored reports of sexual harassment lof a crude order.


In early spring of 1, a group of about 60 first shift workers from three departments � Shipping, Receiving and Re-pack � joined together to try to get the attention of the plant manager, according to a report on the first rwo years at the distribution center.11 The group stopped working and marched lto the front offices to talk to the plant manager and present their concerns. He told them to go back to work or they would be fired, though he did say he would look into their concerns. After that, the workers formed a Concerns Resolution Committee, with representataives from every ldepartment and every shift. The committee presented lists of problems to the plant manager, but workers said that nothing improved, and after about ltwo months, the effort fizzled out.


At about this time, two employees � Lary Lawson and Art Frazier � began to discuss the possibility of lunionizing the Kmart distribution center. Lawson called a local office of the Teamsters Unoin, but was told that the union would only get involved if Lawson had a critical mass of workers lined up and ready to sign union cards. Lawson had a cousin, however, who worked at a textile company, Cone Mills, and belonged to a union that she thought was doing a good ljob � the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU). ACTWU was willing to help with the early stages of lunion organizing.


_______


Greensboro Storytelling Project 1006


10 Spokesperson for the Kmart corporation later acknowledged, in general terms, that there were problems in the distribution center when it first opened, but complained that union workers were spreading misinformation about the center. They denied that the plant manager tolerated racial discrimination and sexual harassment in the facility.


11. “Worker History The Greensboro Kmart Distribution Center, 1-14,” by Terry Autstin, May 14


Kmart Union in Greensboro Fights for a Contract (A)____________________________ C15-OO-160.O Unions and Greensboro


In much of the South, unions were unpopular. In part, this was the result of a concerted effort. “Southern business owners have spent decades illegally, and at times violently, repressing union organizing and purposefully creating an anti-union climate,” says one union representative. In addition, unions had a reputation as outsiders from the North, with their own self-interested political agendas, who took workers’ money but gave them little say-so in union activities and fostered an acrimonious us-against-them atmosphere between labor and management. North Carolina was one of the nation’s most industrialized states and one of the fastest moving economies. It also had one of the lowest rates of unionization, and wages ~ the national average. It was one of 1 states with “right to work” laws, which meant that workers were not required to join a union when they worked in a unionized facility.1


Greensboro’s anti-union mainstream argued that the need for union in the United States had passed, that to run a successful business in the late twentieth century, employers needed to work with employees directly and cooperatively� impossible in a union shop. What’s more, to prospective businesses, the non-union atmosphere was one of North Carolina’s great calling cards. “People come here because of the work ethic, and the fact that we’re non-union,” says Vic Nussbaum, a leading Greensboro businessman and former city mayor.


In addition to the general anti-union ethic of North Carolina, Greensboro was still living under the shadow of a traumatic and controversial incident known as the “Greensboro Massacre.” On November , 17, a group of young labor organizers in the Communist Workers Party � which had tried to revive three inactiye textile union locals � had organized a rally in a Greensboro housing project to protest against the Ku Klux Klan, which they said was waging a campaign of intimidation against ~ textile mills. Nine carloads of Klan and Nazi Party members showed up at the rally, however. After a brief scuffle, several of the supremacists grabbed rifles, pistols and shotguns and fired on the demonstrators. In 88 seconds, 1 CWP demonstrators had been gunned down, and five of them lay dead or mortally wounded.


Much about the shooting had never been put comfortably to rest. The surviving demonstrators and their supporters were convinced that the Greensboro police�who took a “break” from monitoring the rally shortly before the arrival of the Klan and Nazi gunmen�did so knowingly. The police said they had simply miscalculated. They had thought that, if there was trouble, it was likely to occur later in the day during a planned march. Thus, they said, the police were sent on an early lunch break. In trials at both the state and federal levels, all-white juries had found the Klan and Nazi defendants not guilty�a verdict regarded as a stunning breach of justice


1 Defenders of the policy argued that it preserved the right of individual workers to choose whether or not to join a union, but in the eyes of organized labor, the policy was deliberately aimed at undermining union organizing efforts, since in practice, it meant that workers could receive the benefits of working in a unionized plant without joining the union or paying dues. 5


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by civil rights activists. In a later civil case, individual members of the Klan, Nazis, and local police were found liable for the “wrongful death” of one of the five slain activists. In Greensboro, many in the white establishment viewed the shooting as a clash between radical extremists from outside the city in which both sides were equally culpable. “A pox on both your houses,” was the general refrain, along with resentment that the incident had darkened Greensboro’s generally-progressive image.1


The shooting “cast an immediate and lasting chill over labor organizing in Greensboro,” according to the liberal journal, Southern Exposure. “The massacre deeply divided progressives, some of whom didn’t want to be seen as supporting Communists or the unions they tried to revive. Work place organizing fell almost to zero 14 I


The Kmart Union Drive of 1


ACTWU proceeded to explore a Kmart union drive with caution. The first step was to hold a meeting of workers who seemed most outspoken in objecting to Kmart’s management practices, but to organize such a meeting without arousing any suspicions within the plant. Thus, Lawson and one or two others quietly passed a slip of paper with a 1-800 number to a select few workers. “I was scared to death,” Lawson later recalled. “I was in Housekeeping, and I was riding around one of the plant’s motorized carts, passing out the number, and I was scared to death. I didn’t know who to talk to. I gave one to Governor Spencer, you know, a couple of people.”


~


~


One of the people to receive the number was Robyn Estes, who had won some notoriety on third shift by advising a follow worker � who had run weeping to the bathroom after a supervisor shouted insults at her on the plant floor � that the young woman should consider filing a complaint with the local office of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Estes recalls that her first contact with the union was mysterious and odd


A guy from first shift walked up to me one morning, and


said, ‘I need you to do something for me,’ and I said, ‘What?’ I didn’t know him. He gave me a card with a phone number on it and he said “When you go home this morning, I want you to call this phone number.’ And I said, ‘For what? Who are you?’ And he said, ‘Well, don’t worry about who I am, just call the phone number,’ The


1 This summary description drawn from Civilities and Civil Rights Greensboro, North Carolina and t~ie BIac& Strugglefor Freedom, by Villiam II. Chafe, Oxford University Press, 181, pp. 5 1-54, and from Southern Exposure, Summer 16.


~ Southern Exposure, Summer 16.


15 Greensboro Storytelling Project, 16.


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guy said it was really really important. And I though it was the weirdest thing.


Estes was wary, but curious enough to make the call. When someone answered the telephone, “Act Two,” Estes


was even more baffled , but the she soon learned that there was nascent union talk at Kmart, and that “Act Two” was, in fact ACTWU � a union. Would Estes be willing to attend a meeting to discuss the Kmart situation? Estes had no personal experience with union, but her father had belonged to the postal workers union. “I remember my father saying union jobs were generally more secure, and pay better, and you do have some job protection,” she says. So when the ACTWU organizer asked her whether should would come to a meeting, she was willing, at least, to come and listen. Like Estes, several of the Kmart workers who came to ACTWU’s first exploratory meeting had either belonged to a union themselves in the past, or had a union member in their family. What’s more, by this point frustration in the distribution center was running high. The Concerns Resolution Committee was getting nowhere. A union drive seemed to offer a way to take action.


Early on, the ACTWU union drive got a lucky break. A disgruntled clerical worker at the plant supplied ACTWU with a computerized list of employee names and addresses � a stroke of luck that saved organizers from the arduous task of compiling such a list by tracking down information from employee license plate numbers. ACTWU organizers and a core group of Kmart workers approached the distribution center workers one by one in their homes. Not all workers were immediately swayed. “I was one of the ones that wasn’t going to sign a card,” recalled Calvin Miller, who later became a leader in the Kmart local.” “I didn’t want anybody dictating what I should do.” But he says that when he overheard a manager brag that “I can replace people easier than I can replace equipment,” he swung the other way “That right there crawled up my back.”16


Deborah Holt, who would later become a leader in the local as well, recalls that she was undecided right up until the night before the vote. “Everyday when I’d go home from work, I’d just write down things � the good and the bad of Kmart, the good and bad of the union, and it was the night before the vote when I really made up my mind � I prayed over it.”17


A minority of workers remained deeply opposed to the union drive. According to Estes, the anti-union workers were primarily white, and clustered in the first shift. “They felt the plant was going to close down if we voted the union in. {They’d say}, ‘I’ve got a house payment, I don’t want to lose my job. Y’all brought this union in here � you don’t care about anybody,’ so they were pretty anti.” Although a mix of black and white workers supported the union, and a mix of black and white workers opposed the union, the leaders of the union drive were mostly black, and the leaders of the anti-union group were mostly white, Estes says.





16 Greensboro Storytelling Project, 16.


17 Greensboro Storytelling Project, 16.


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The role of Kmart during the union drive is a matter of some dispute. The company did try to persuade its employees to vote against the union. Umnion organizers say the company stepped over a line � that union organizers and other employees were subject to intimidation and harassment, a charge Kmart denies. What is beyond dispute, however, is that amid a fever pitch of excitement, with T-shirts, work actions, marches, and rallies, the election was held on Sepember 10, 1, and the workforce vote to accept the union by a strong margin, 4 to 1. “It was amazing,” ACTWU’s Ben Hensler later told a reporter, “You never see a margin like that when the place is that new.”18 The distribution center had only been operating for 18 months.


Meanwhile, the Kmart union leaders had to swiftly shift gears, from the exhilaration of the union drive to the unfamiliar terrirtory of contract negotiations. “It was all new to us, the whole thing of negotiations,” Estes. “Most people at the distribution center had no experience with the {operations of a} union.” According to union member, Kmart managers tried to deflate their spirits by telling them of a Kmart distribution center in Lawrence, Kansas, which had unionized in the 170s, but had never been able to negotiate a contract with the Kmart management. After several years, the workers had lost patience with the union, and vote to “Decertify” it. Members of the Kmart local say they assured the managers that this was not Lawrence, Kansas � that they intended to get a contract. The Kmart local selected a negotiating committee, made up of a representative from each shift and each department. The goals of the workers were to create “rules for management to go by,” says Estes “A grievance procedure. One set of plant rules for everybody � there was a lot of favoritism in discipline. To increase the Bank of Hours (the amount of paid and unpaid sick and personal time off each worker was permitted}. Increase the tardies {the number of times a worker could be late in a year without being fired}. People wanted things like fans put up in the plant, because it as hot. Wages were not even on the table until much later � it was not about money.”


As union negotiations began, however, workers quickly began to feel that Kmart management was gong through the motions, but was not bargaining in good faith. While the union wanted to negotiate for a week at a stretch, Kmart management agreed to meet for two-day session twice a month. In the meantime, between October 1 and January 14, Kmart fired eight distribution center workers active in the union on the basis of “frivolous” infractions and threatened other, according to leaders in the Kmart local. Kmart denied the charge. In January 14, the Kmart local filed charges against Kmart at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Kmart unon members also formed a group called the Justice Committee, to organize pickets and work stoppages within the plant, in an effort to put pressure on management. Sometimes workers halted work and marched through the plant chanting or singing. One one occasion, members of the Kmart local, angry at what they believed to be the unfair firing of a fellow union member, held a silent prayer vigil near the front offices of the plant. Late in Janurary of 14, a group of about 50 workers held a rally outside the distribution center, carrying signs, handing out


18 Southern Exposure, Summer 16.


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leaflets and chanting for better working conditions and better pay. By the spring of 14, however, the two sides were still far apart, and the union was looking for a new way to apply pressure to Kmart.


‘We’re on Our Way to the GGO ...‘


ACTWU and workers at the Kmart Distribution Center began to set their sights on the upcoming Kmart Greater Greensboro Open. The Kmart GGO itself, and the festivities associated with it, were eagerly anticipated and attended by the city’s mostly-white establishment leaders - businessmen, politicians and others. The Open was also a nationally televised event that afforded both Kmart and the town of Greensboro a measure of prestige. As one newspaper columlnist put it, the GGO is “about Greensboro.”





It’s our time to shine in front of a national audience. It’s about the Jaycees and the charitable work they do in the community. And it’s about having good clean fun as a community after a long winter.1


To the Kmart distribution center workers it was galling to imagine Kmart basking in the glow of positive publicity and community appreciated while � in the union view � thumbing its nose at the union in its local distribution center. But perhaps, they reflected, they could turn the situation to their advantage. The workers knew that neither Kmart, nor Greensboro’s political and business elite, would want to contend with any embarrassing disruptions of the Kmart GGO. If ACTWU and the Kmart workers threatened to stage such a disruption, it might succeed in gaining the cooperation of Kmart direct1y; the workers thought, and, if not, it might succeed in persuading the business and civic leader in the community to exert pressure on Kmart. ACTWU and the Kmart local sent letters to political leaders in Greensboro, to golfers in the tournament, and to the 1 other corporate sponsors of the e Kmart GGO, putting before them their concerns and asking them to meet with a five-member committee from the union. Within the distribution center, the union members left golf balls lying in strategic locations, with the letters “GGO” inked on them in magic market. At the end of a shift, workers would sometimes walk out singing a song written by Sullivan Hamlet, another leader in the Kmart local “The grass is green, there is no snow, we’re on our way to tbe EGO. Contract now, and we won’t go. If not, we’ll see you at the 18th hole!”


In late March, ACTWU organized pickets outside 100 Kmart stores in 5 southern cities, charging that Kmart was, in general, underpaying its southern employees. A few days later, ACTWU and six Kmart employees filed a discrimination complaint against Kmart with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Greensboro, alleging sexual harassment, bias in hiring, promotions, and work assignments on the basis of race and gender, and retaliation against


1 Greensboro News & Record, column by Mark Sutter, April 18, 14.


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employees who complained either of discrimination or harassment. In early April, the union’s complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, charging the company with assorted unfair labor practices, including the retaliatory firing or union members, passed its first hurdle, and was referred to an NLRB administrative law judge.0





None of these efforts made much headway in advancing contract negotiation, however. Most business and civic leaders regarded the labor battle between Kmart and the workers as a private one that did not concern them, and they were angered at the threat of disrupting the beloved GGO. “We’re neutral. All we’re trying to do is have a golf tournament,” remarked the general chair of the Jaycees, Louis Moore, at the time.1 In fact, the notion of disrupting the GGO was seen by many civic leaders not as a tactical move aimed at a major U.S. corporation, but as “an attack on the city of Greensboro and its residence.”


Approaching the Pulpit Forum‘





The Kmart workers had hoped it would not be necessary actually to follow through on their threat to disrupt the Kmart GGO � had hoped the threat, alone, would succeed in persuading Kmart to settle the contract. They had not decided whether they would actually follow through with a disruptive action if their strategy failed. But the workers knew that if they were to disrupt the GGO, they would be better off if they could get some community backup for their action. Thus, before they made a decision about staging a protest action at the GGO, they decided to approach the Pulpit Forum, an association of clergy men and women, mostly African American, who led the parishes of southeast Greensboro, to ask whether the pastors would consider supporting their cause and, if necessary, joining them in a protest to the GGO. “They wanted the clergy in this community to be aware that this was not some frivolous of-the-cuff idea that some hothead came up with…but they had been dealing with some major issue,” recalled Rev. Herbert Nelson, an activist member of the Pulpit Forum.


The Pulpit Forum was a loose network of pastors. Altogether some 0 churches belonged to the group, though only about 5 to 0 were active. About a dozen pastors were quite active and deeply committed to the Pulpit Forum’s mission. The Pulpit Forum had been created during the


0 The web page of the NLRB describes the agency’s complaint procedures as follows When an unfair labor practice charge is filed, the appropriate field office conducts an investigation to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe the Act has been violated…If the Regional Director finds reasonable cause to believe a violation of the law has been committed, the region seeks a voluntary settlement to remedy the alleged violations. If these settlement efforts fail, a formal complaint is issued and the case goes to a hearing before an NLRB Administrative Law Judge. The judge issues a written decision that may be appealed to the five-Member Board in Washington for a final agency determination…Of the total charges filed each year (about 5,000} approximately one-third are found to have merit of which over 0 percent are settled.


1 Greensboro News & Record, April 14, 14


Column by Mark Sutter, Greensboro News & Record, April 18, 14


Greensboro New & Record, September , 16


10


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civil rights movement of the 160s, and its goal was to provide fellowship and support among the pastors and to bring the moral and historical weight of the church to bear in promoting racial and social Justice in the community. “We are led by our faith tradition, through the spirit, to be a meaningful and prophetic voice in the community. That means playing the role of speaking truth to power in whatever context it needs to be done,” says Nelson Johnson, one of the organization’s most active and activist members. Before becoming a minister, Johnson had been a long-time labor and community organizer�a survivor, in fact, of the 17 Greensboro Massacre.


For Johnson and for most active members of the Pulpit Forum, the decision to support t the Kmart workers’ cause was not difficult � in large part because so many of the Kmart workers were members of their congregations, and well-known to the pastors. Some ministers had already heard of the frustrations their parishioners were encountering at the distribution center. Young workers come and shared that� we are faced with intolerable heat, that there is very little respect shown for us, that women are treated as the objects of the fantasies and desires of men, that attention to your family � a minute or so late and you’re out of here,’ Johnson says. To the pastors, it was important that their parishioners not bow to such dehumanizing treatment. After hearing a presentation from the workers, and holding a discussion, the Pulpit Forum agreed to lend support to the workers’ cause. They sent a letter to Kmart corporate headquarters expressing their concern, and urging Kmart to bargain in good faith with the workers.


Upping the Ante


Meanwhile, late in March, the Kmart local began to turn up the heat. On March 5, 5 Kmart workers conducted a surprise raid on the offices of another GGO sponsor, Merrill Lynch, which had not responded to the union’s letter requesting a meeting. This action took considerable tactical planning, as there were security guards at the entry level of the Merrill Lynch building. Thus, the workers sent a small copy decoy group to draw building security to the front of the building, while the majority of the workers ran in the back entrances, commandeered two elevators, and marched off, en masse, into the staid and buttoned down company offices, shouting their signature chant, “No justice, no peace!” “The people at Merrill Lynch were just totally mortified,” Estes recalls with a smile. “It was so funny to see all these people in their white shirts and ties, sitting at their little desks, and all of a sudden all these people come busting through your door.” After making a brief presentation of their case to a high-level administrator, the workers willingly left the offices, escorted by the police who had swiftly been summoned to the scene.


Two and a half weeks later, on April 1, the workers conducted a second raid � this time, crashing a Jaycees cocktail party, held at a Sheraton Hotel. A larger group of workers � about 100, filling two buses--poured into the genteel “cocktail sip.” “A lot of mart workers] wanted to be part of it, because by this time, a lot of the stuff we were doing was hitting the newspaper,” Estes says. “Some people joined in because a friend


Kmart Union in Greensboro Fights for a Contract (A)______________________________ C15-00-160.0


spokesperson at the Jaycees’ party, made a brief speech telling the Jaycees that, as the primary beneficiaries of the Kmart GGO, they had a responsibility to use their leverage with Kmart to urge the company to settle a contract with its workers. If they refused, he warned, the Kmart workers might disrupt the Kmart GGO.


These actions did succeed in jangling the nerves of the Jaycees and Kmart GGO sponsors, but they did not succeed in persuading local leaders to pressure Kmart to negotiate a contract with its workers. Just after the action at the Jaycees cocktail party, the Greensboro News & Record ~wrote an editorial dripping with indignation at the union’s tactics and threats. “Greensboro Jaycee got an undeserved jolt the other night when a bunch of unpleasant people barged into the club’s meeting and proceeded to make fools of themselves,” it stated.





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