In 1979 the Retail Clerks International Union merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters to form the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which instantly became the largest member of the AFL-CIO federation. UFCW expanded rapidly during its first two decades, both by organizing and by merging with numerous smaller unions. For details and a chronology of those mergers, click here.
UFCW today consists of more than 1.3 million full- and part-time workers employed primarily in grocery and retail stores, as well as in the food-processing and meat-packing industries. Located in all U.S. 50 states and Canada, these workers belong to more than 400 local unions.
Dedicated to “empowering workers to unite and find their voice” through a “nationwide movement for social and economic justice,” UFCW aims to “improve wages, benefits, and conditions on the job” by negotiating with employers to “make sure they compensate workers with the kind of pay and benefits that allow [them] the dignity of a fair paycheck and the ability to support [themselves].” By UFCW's calculus, “the fate of the American worker can’t be left entirely in the hands of the wealthiest one percent.” Without union influence, says UFCW, few workers would ever be able to secure “career jobs with affordable health care” and “decent, middle-class wages.”
UFCW administers 6 major programs related directly or indirectly to the rights and benefits of food-industry workers:
1) Part-Time Workers' Rights: UFCW advocates a Part-Time Workers' Bill of Rights which would penalize employers for failing to provide healthcare coverage to part-time workers. This bill would also allow part-timers to be protected by the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and would permit them to participate and vest in pension plans.
2) Rights At Work: Claiming that “working families are under attack by big corporations and their allies in government,” this UFCW initiative accuses “corporations and the ultra-wealthy” of “funneling unprecedented amounts of money into so-called 'right to work' bills” that permit employers to hire or retain the services of non-union members. According to UFCW, such bills are part of an “extreme political agenda” designed to “weaken the basic rights of workers so that CEOs have more and workers have less.”
3) Voting Rights: UFCW complains that “states across the country continue to pass restrictive voter-suppression laws” such as Voter ID requirements. “These thinly veiled attempts to ... make citizens meet unnecessary requirements for voting,” says the Union, constitute “an attack on our fundamental freedoms” and are designed primarily “to reduce the turnout of younger, poor, minority, and senior voters.”
4) Active Ballot Club: This initiative, which complements the Voting Rights program, charges that corporations and the wealthy seek to promote “restrictive voting procedures” in order to create, through the political process, “an unbalanced and unfair economy where wages are as low as possible and profits replace respect for the workers that created them.”
5) Immigration Reform: Adamantly opposed to government-engineered workplace raids designed to apprehend illegal aliens, UFCW demands “comprehensive” legislative reform that “protects the rights of immigrants, keeps families together, and creates a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans” whose “only crime is trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
6) ALEC Exposed: UFCW detests the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an association that drafts pro-free-market, pro-limited-government legislation for state lawmakers across the U.S. By UFCW's telling, ALEC “brings corporations and politicians together to create cookie-cutter legislation that benefits special interests and hurts workers.” These include “efforts to block paid sick leave, pass right-to-work-for-less, and adopt discriminatory 'Voter ID' laws.”
UFCW has established a number of so-called Constituency Groups designed to protect the rights of union members who belong to specific demographics that supposedly are victimized by deeply rooted social and political inequities. These Constituency Groups include:
the Women’s Network, which works to “mentor, motivate, and educate UFCW women at the local union level in order to increase women’s participation in UFCW programs and activities”;
United Latinos, which strives to “empower Latino men and women within the UFCW ... and within our communities all over the U.S.”;
the Minority Coalition, which aims to “promote diversity and inclusion within the labor movement and within the UFCW”; and
UFCW OUTreach, which is dedicated to building “mutual support” between UFCW and the LGBT community “and their allies,” in order to promote “social and economic justice for all, regardless of ... sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In 2005, UFCW left the AFL-CIO and collaborated with five other unions—the Laborers International Union of North America, the SEIU, the Teamsters, UNITE-HERE!, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters—to form a new entity, the Change to Win federation. Eight years later, in August 2013, UFCW announced that it was re-affiliating with the AFL-CIO.
Since 2004, UFCW's international president has been the longtime global-union-movement activist Joe Hansen. In September 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Hansen to the U.S. Trade Representatives Advisory Committee for Trades Policy.
UFCW has long been a major financial supporter of the Democratic Party. From 1990 through 2012, the Union spent an aggregate total of $55.7 million on Democratic political causes and campaigns, vs. just $247,000 on Republicans—i.e., 99.6% in favor of Democrats.
A noteworthy amount of corruption has plagued UFCW over the years. Between 2004 and 2013, six of its officials and staffers pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling Union funds.