LOGAN SQUARE — Logan Square’s Dill Pickle Co-op workers staged an “informational picket” outside of the community grocery store Wednesday, alleging they’re being treated unfairly by management.
The workers, who are also union members, say management “has continuously ignored, undermined and misrepresented” the union’s contract, which took effect late last year. They’re also demanding management reinstate hazard pay.
But general manager I’Talia McCarthy said management is abiding by the contract and store leaders are doing everything they can to keep workers safe during the pandemic even as the grocery store faces a “financial crisis.”
The demonstration on Wednesday is the latest in a union fight that stretches back to 2017, when Dill Pickle workers first sought to be represented by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The battle escalated early on in the pandemic, with workers demanding union recognition and hazard pay. The workers also protested the firing of two employees.
After weeks of negotiations, management signed a contract with the Dill Pickle workers’ union November 2020. But more clashes followed.
Some workers said management has disregarded their rights since the contract with signed by doing things like changing policies without getting the union’s consent and retaliating against a worker for raising concerns.
“At this point it’s just about fair staff treatment and respecting the contract and the law,” said Ty Healey, who has worked at Dill Pickle for two years, first in the grocery department and now as a personal shopper. Healey was one of the workers who demonstrated outside of the store Wednesday.
“They keep acting like they can do these things without talking to us, things that they’re legally obligated to [talk to us about] like our hours and working conditions, both of which they changed without bargaining with the union.They’re not acting in good faith to us right now.”
Hazard pay is another big sticking point. Management stopped giving hazard pay to workers in October 2020 after about eight months of doling out the additional pay. With the pandemic continuing to rage on, workers are demanding management reinstate hazard pay. But McCarthy, the general manager, said they simply can’t afford to do so.
McCarthy said they were forced cut hazard pay when their federal Paycheck Protection Program loan dried up. The grocery store is in a “financial crisis,” she said. Early on, the store saw an uptick in sales when people were “panic buying” toilet paper and pantry items, but sales have been declining for months, she said. But financial troubles were brewing long before the pandemic.
McCarthy said previous store leaders didn’t raise enough money for the store’s move from its tiny location on Fullerton Avenue to its much larger current location at 2746 N. Milwaukee Ave., which added to the store’s debt. The store is also still feeling the effects of an embezzlement incident in October 2019 in which a former interim general manager and employee stole $170,000. Though the case has been settled in court, McCarthy said the store hasn’t been able to recuperate any of the stolen money. Meanwhile, the store is spending a lot of money on masks, gloves and other protective equipment to keep employees safe during the pandemic.
All of these things combined have created a perfect storm, leaving the store in about $4.2 million in debt, McCarthy said.
“We’re in a really rocky position. We’re barely hanging on,” she said.
Financial issues aside, McCarthy contends management has not violated the union contract in any way. She said workers have not filed for arbitration on any issue, which they’re required to do under the contract, and instead have filed at least five unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. She said the board has dismissed each charge.
“So far, there has been no official or final determination by any judge, jury, agency or other tribunal that we have violated any law or provision of the collective bargaining agreement,” McCarthy said.
On retaliating against a worker, McCarthy said management issued a worker who sent “rude and unprofessional” email a disciplinary letter because he violated the store’s “respect policy.”
“We take our respect policy seriously and believe all employees must be held to the same standard,” she said.
Employees said they are fighting for the same thing: respect. For three hours on Wednesday, workers and IWW representatives marched in a circle outside of the store holding signs that read, “Unfair staff treatment is not cooperative” and “The workers are the union” as confused shoppers navigated their way around the group. The demonstration was not a strike — those who participated were either on their break or not scheduled to work that day.
Healey and other workers declined to say if they plan to take further action against management in the coming months.
“I don’t think one person who works here feels respected by upper management or has any faith in their ability to manage this place — and that has to change immediately,” Healey said.
McCarthy said she and other current leaders are doing everything they can to ensure workers feel safe and supported, but previous leaders fell short in that regard, which could be driving the dysfunction. The grocery store was founded in 2005.
“There was no culture of accountability and the store suffered sales-wise, labor-wise due to past management, as well as embezzlement. We’ve had to change the culture and start holding people accountable and we’ve had to put a lot of policies in place that should’ve been in put in place in the beginning,” she said.
“When people are finally starting to be held accountable, it’s going to cause a pretty big rift in the organization. Unfortunately, that’s where our organization is as far as growing pains go.”
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