LOGAN SQUARE — Dill Pickle Co-op workers walked off the job Friday morning after months of battling with management over issues like hazard pay and the firing of employees.
Several workers formed a picket line outside of the Logan Square grocery store at 2746 N. Milwaukee Ave., holding signs that read, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” More workers are expected to join the walkout, which is expected to continue Saturday, during a typically busy holiday weekend. The co-op had about 65 workers as of May 2020.
At issue are unfair labor practice complaints the workers filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers — represented by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) — accuse management of bad faith bargaining, improperly disciplining employees and changing the terms of the union contract without authorization. The workers have three open cases against management, according to the board’s website.
The workers also say management has rejected a settlement proposed by the National Labor Relations Board and is instead planning to take the workers to federal court Sept. 21 to fight the charges.
The co-op’s general manager, I’Talia McCarthy, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Friday. But McCarthy has previously said the board has dismissed previous charges against management.
One complaint from April 2020 accused management of cutting workers’ hours for participating in the union. That was dismissed, according to a letter on the labor board’s website.
McCarthy also insisted store leaders are doing everything they can to keep workers safe — even as the grocery store faces a “financial crisis.” She said the store was $4.2 million in debt as of April, partly because previous leaders failed to raise enough money to move to the Milwaukee Avenue location. 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, she said.
“We’re in a really rocky position. We’re barely hanging on,” McCarthy previously said.
But workers say management’s unwillingness to settle the labor disputes is the latest in a long line of affronts stretching back years.
Val Vergara, a clerk who works in the store’s cheese and meat section, pushed back against McCarthy’s claim that the store can’t afford to meet workers’ demands. They questioned why store leaders cut hazard pay but then bought a large billboard to advertise the store.
“It’s really disrespectful that they don’t have enough money to give to their employees who keep the store up and running, but they have enough money for all of these other, miscellaneous things,” they said.
Kevin Taylor, who works in the store’s produce department, also walked off the job Friday.
“At the end of the day, it’s standing up for what’s right,” Taylor said. “In my opinion, they used left-speak to try to get people in here and put money into the co-op, and for what? For them to break the law and not pay us correctly? Fire people without investigation?”
The strike comes after years of strife between Dill Pickle workers and store leaders, starting in 2017 when workers first sought to be represented by IWW. The conflict escalated during 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 that agreement hasn’t eased the tension the union voted to authorize a strike in May 2021, steward Alex Thomas said.
Thomas, who works in the store’s produce section, said they hope store leaders will work with them to create a better future for the neighborhood grocery store.
“We want this place to survive, we like working here. We just want a better place. We want them to honor our contract,” Thomas said. “We want to be bargaining in good faith with them. And we’ve tried to make them listen multiple times, and now that’s why we’re out here. This is what we’ve gotta do to get them to listen.”
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