Ralph’s Management Indicted by Federal Grand Jury

by DAVID MACARAY

Although the announcement didn’t get much play in the media, on Friday, September 19, a federal grand jury handed down indictments against eight former and current Ralphs management employees, accusing them of 23 counts of violating federal labor law.  The alleged violations occurred five years ago, during the UCFW’s (United Commercial and Food Workers) debilitating 141-day strike against Ralphs grocery store chain. 

Two years ago, store executives pleaded guilty to similar charges (and paid fines amounting to $20 million), admitting that during the company’s lockout they had knowingly and illegally hired hundreds of union workers to help keep the stores running smoothly.  Friday’s indictments were a follow-up to those original charges.

The case was ugly from the start.  Once the UCFW called its strike, and Ralphs locked out employees at all their stores, it soon became apparent that the operation was suffering from not having competent, experienced workers running it.  But as tantalizing as the notion was, hiring back selected locked out employees to man up the stores was illegal, and Ralphs knew it.

Still, the strike/lockout was crippling them. Therefore, Ralphs managers came up with a plan to conceal their strategy.  They assigned these illegal hires fictitious names and phony social security numbers, and scheduled them to work at stores a good distance away from their usual jobs, so they wouldn’t be recognized by fellow workers or regular customers.  Unfortunately for Ralphs, the subterfuge was almost immediately exposed.

Of course, when accusations of misconduct were initially made by the UCFW, Ralphs not only categorically denied them, they pretended to be grossly offended by even the hint that such improprieties had occurred, and went so far as to describe the charges as proof that the union was “vindictive” and “desperate.” 

Only after an overwhelming amount of evidence had been amassed against them did company executives sheepishly acknowledge their crimes.  In addition to the $20 million paid in fines, Ralphs agreed to establish a $50 million fund to reimburse union members for money lost by Ralphs having extended the duration of the shutdown (by keeping stores running via illegal employees). 

In any event, many observers thought the stiff fines and the employee reimbursement fund would be the end of it.  But because the violations were so crass, so clumsy and heavy-handed—and because Ralphs executives had lied so shamelessly throughout the investigation—the U.S. attorneys decided that the grocery chain executives needed to be treated as the criminals they were.  The feds deserve credit for persevering.

Strikes have been part of the labor-management landscape for over 200 years.  The historical rationale behind striking is a simple one.  In order to put pressure on a company to be more generous in its contract offer, the union attempts to demonstrate to management just how much the company needs their workers, how dependent upon them they are. 

And the only way for workers to do this is by withholding their labor—to “punish” themselves by voluntarily sacrificing their immediate wages, benefits and job security in return for a greater, long-term good.  The logic underlying a strike can be expressed by the simple dictum:  By hurting ourselves, we can, perhaps, hurt you. 

In truth, a strike is the only real leverage a union has.  Short of actually shutting down a company, everything else in a contract negotiation amounts to rhetoric—debating, bickering, compromising, shouting, threatening.  Moreover, despite what management says about strikes being obsolete, meaningless, counterproductive, etc., don’t let them kid you.  Strikes are the only weapon management fears.

So when a company like Ralphs secretly and illegally hires hundreds of locked-out workers and continues to run its operations, it’s sending a phony message.  It’s saying that it doesn’t miss the striking workers, that the operation is chugging along quite nicely without them, that the strike was unsuccessful. 

Worse, Ralphs’ felonies contributed to prolonging the strike, resulting not only in thousands of earnest strikers remaining out of work longer than necessary—unaware that laws were being broken—but forcing the union to accept significant contract concessions as a condition for returning to work . 

The Ralphs debacle should be a lesson to anyone who thinks Corporate America is predisposed to act ethically when it comes to labor relations.  Alas, more often than not, the governing consideration in these matters—especially when the stakes are high—is whether or not they get caught.  Thanks to the feds’ persistence (and Ralphs own arrogance and stupidity), they got caught.

DAVID MACARAY, a playwright and writer in Los Angeles, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

Your Ad Here

 

 

 


Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future