Monday, March 13, 2006

Update on Balducci's Unionization Struggle

[note to sociologists: stay alert for a familiar name]

Lining Up at Balducci's, and Not for the Salmon
By LIZA MONROY, New York Times

With a milling crowd on the sidewalk, mornings at the new Balducci's on Eighth Avenue at 14th Street are reminiscent of another Chelsea institution, the mega-club.

But the people standing outside aren't waiting to get inside the historic New York Savings Bank building, which houses the newest branch of Balducci's, an upscale market. On the contrary; they are protesting the fact that the store's workers are not unionized.

As shoppers enter the store, which opened late last year and features picture-perfect displays of fresh pink salmon, passion fruit and butternut squash bathed in flattering natural light, they are greeted with cries of "Boycott! Boycott!" On most weekdays, about a dozen protesters — members of Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union — show up to wave bright pink and green fliers bearing the headline "Before you shop ... Stop."

According to Patrick Purcell, the local's organizing director, the issue is that the store's nearly 150 workers lack job protection, employer-paid medical insurance and pension plans, and earn $7.50 to $11 an hour, compared with the average $17 an hour paid to their counterparts at unionized groceries.

In response, Peter Krieger, the company's acting chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview: "The statements Pat Purcell has made about our salary and pension are untrue. On average we pay higher than what he claims, but it is our policy not to discuss specific wages."

Upscale groceries are no strangers to picketers. Protests have taken place outside the SoHo branch of nonunionized Dean & Deluca's, according to Pat Roney, the chief executive of Dean & DeLuca, and when Garden of Eden opened a store on Broadway and 107th Street last year, there were protests over the fact that workers were paid nonunion wages.

Protesters descended on the Balducci's within days of its opening, and according to Mr. Purcell, they will remain until their demands are met.

Still, many shoppers are not deterred.

"I shop at Balducci's every day," said Charles Lombardo, an antiques dealer who lives a few blocks away, as he passed through the store's glass doors. "I pay no mind to them."

Even shoppers reluctant to cross a picket line have devised strategies to make their way into the store. Jim Jasper, a sociologist who lives a block away, shops in the evening, when the protesters are gone.

"I must say," Mr. Jasper said, "it's a pretty good store."

4 Comments:

Anonymous xaq said...

Wait. This guy's a sociologist with a PhD from Berkeley and he doesn't understand the concept of a boycott? How does that even happen?

3/13/2006 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To think that Jim Jasper writes on moral protest and social movements. I guess he is one of those sociologists that does not put theory into practice.

3/14/2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger Eric Prindle said...

Any labor historians care to share any background on where in the world this apparently widespread "moral formalism" approach to picket lines comes from?

This is something with which we at NYU are of course far too familiar (e.g. professors not moving their night classes because "the picket line is over by then," Gordon Brown going in the back entrance, etc.).

3/14/2006 8:18 PM  
Anonymous not a PhD, but I play one on TV said...

I sense a new social movement afoot: Sociologists For Superior Produce. If I weren't already devoting all my time to Sociologists In Support Of A Man's Right To Choose, I'd sign myself up!

3/15/2006 2:24 AM  

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