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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is a labor union representing approximately 1.3 million workers in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker in many industries, including agriculture, health care, meatpacking, poultry and food processing, manufacturing, textile, G4S Security, and chemical trades, and retail food. Until July 2005, UFCW was affiliated with the AFL-CIO, where it was the second largest union by membership. Along with two other members of the Change to Win Coalition, the UFCW formally disaffiliated with the AFL-CIO on July 29 2005.


The UFCW was created through the merger of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters union and Retail Clerks International Union following its founding convention in June 1979. William H. Wynn, president of the RCIU and one of the designers of the merger, became president of UFCW at the time of its founding. The merger created the largest union affiliated with the AFL-CIO. The UFCW continued to expanded through both organizing and merging with several smaller unions between 1980 and 1998. In 1980, the Barbers, Beauticians and Allied Industries International Association merged with UFCW, followed by the United Retail Workers Union in 1981 (now Local 881).

In 1983 UFCW held its first regular convention in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Also in 1983, the Insurance Workers International Union voted to have their 15,000 members join the UFCW.

In 1984 and 1985 UFCW pursed aggressive organizing campaigns, and organized 136,000 workers. In 1986 the Canadian Brewery Workers Union merged with UFCW. Still aggressive in their organizing efforts, UFCW organized another 81,000 workers in 1986, nearly 100,000 in 1987 and over 100,000 in 1988. However, it was also during this time period that UFCW leadership refused to support an Austin, Minnesotamarker meatpackers local (P-9) in its contract dispute with the Hormel Foods Corporation. The UFCW ultimately struck a deal with Hormel management, seized control of Local P-9, and removed the local union leaders, actions that dealt a significant blow to the credibility of UFCW in the eyes of many in the larger labor movement. This dispute was the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary, American Dream.

In 1991 the 5000 members of the Independent Foodhandlers and Warehouse Employees Union in Rhode Island and Massachusetts merged with UFCW to form Local 791. In 1992 the Leather Goods, Plastics, Handbags and Novelty Workers Union merged with UFCW. In 1993 the International Union of Life Insurance Agents of Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota also merged with UFCW, adding another 1500 members to the union.

Bringing about the largest addition to UFCW since its creation in 1979, on October 1, 1993, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and their 100,000 members, merged with UFCW, becoming the RWDSU District Council of the UFCW.

Becoming only the second in UFCW history, Douglas H. Dority was appointed International Union President by the UFCW International Executive Board in 1994 following the retirement of William Wynn. Dority was subsequently elected to remain International President at the UFCW forth regular International Convention in 1998, and again at the fifth regular convention in 2003.

Also in 1994, the 15,000-member strong United Garment Workers of America merged with UFCW. In 1995 the 15,000-member Textile Workers and the 15,000-member Distillery Workers unions both merged with the UFCW forming respectively the UFCW Textile and Garment Council and the UFCW’s Distillery, Wine and Allied Workers Division.

In 1996 the 40,000 members of the International Chemical Workers Union merged with UFCW to form the International Chemical Workers Union Council of the UFCW. In 1997 the Canadian Union of Restaurant and Related Employees merged with UFCW. In 1998 both the United Representatives Guild, Inc. and the Production Service and Sales District Council merged with UFCW.

In 2003, 80,000 members of UFCW across the country went on strike to protect their wages and benefit packages.

In 2004, following the retirement of Douglas Dority, Joseph T. Hansen was appointed by unanimous vote of the UFCW International Executive Board to be the third International President of UFCW. At the UFCW Sixth Regular International Convention in 2008, Hansen ran unopposed and was elected to stay in office.

In 2005, after leaving the AFL-CIO, UFCW joined six other unions—the Teamsters, SEIU, UNITE-HERE, Laborers, United Farm Workers and Carpenters—in creating a new labor federation, the Change to Win Federation.

Activity in Retail Markets

The UFCW currently operates in a number of major grocery chains throughout the United States, including Albertsons, Dierbergs, Kroger, Meijer, Schnucks, Safeway, Supervalu, Giant Food LLC, The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, P&C Foods, Quality Markets, BiLo (both Ahold and Penn Traffic's), Tops Markets, A&P, and Shop Rite. The Union also operates in Canada in major food retail chains such as Loblaw Companies Limited.

Organization in agriculture

Canadian organization

The UFCW has attempted to organize agricultural workers in Ontario, Canadamarker since 1995, when the provincial government passed legislation prohibiting those workers from joining unions. In 2001 the Supreme Court of Canadamarker ruled in favour of UFCW Canada in the case of Dunmore v. Ontario. In the ruling, the Court held that the Ontario government violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by denying agricultural workers unionization rights under Ontario labor law as it had infringed on those workers' freedom of association.

Since the decision, the provincial government has supported legislation that gives agricultural workers the right to join or form an association but no rights to collective bargaining. The UFCW continues to challenge this legislation while making efforts to reach Ontario farm workers. On June 30, 2006, the Ontario government announced that it would extend coverage to farm workers under that province's occupational safety and health legislation, another longstanding demand of the UFCW.

In 2004, UFCW Canada and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) signed a formal organizing protocol recognizing the UFCW as the union with primary jurisdiction for organizing agricultural workers in Canada and agreeing to cooperate on joint organizing and advocacy campaigns. in June 2008, UFCW Canada Local 832 (Manitoba) was successful in achieving a first collective agreement covering some 60 Mexican migrant farm workers at Mayfair Farms in Portage La Prarie, Manitoba. This is the first Canadian agreement of its kind.

Work Stoppages and Conflict with Corporations

2003 California grocery strike

On October 11 2003, the UFCW declared a strike on Vons (owned by Safeway Inc.), in Southern California, because of changes in the new proposed labor contract. These changes included cuts in health care and pension benefits, and the creation of a two-tier system in which new workers would be paid on a different schedule than established workers. The day following the strike, Albertsons and Ralphs, owned by Kroger, locked out their Southern California employees.

The strike ended on February 26, 2004 when the UFCW and affected companies reached an agreement on a new labor contract. Union employees voted to end the strike, and many employees cited financial difficulties as a reason for reaching the agreement. The new labor contract included concessions granted by the chains relating to current employee benefits and wages, and concessions granted by the union relating to creating two tiers of employees and cutting benefits overall.

UFCW and Smithfield Foods

Since the 1990s, the UFCW had been embroiled in a dispute with non-unionized meat processing company Smithfield Foods. The UFCW had repeatedly attempted to organize the company's Bladen County, North Carolinamarker meat-packing plant but Smithfield Foods resisted this organization. In 2007, Smithfield filed a federal lawsuit against the UFCW citing the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, claiming that the union orchestrated a public smear campaign to hurt Smithfield's business as a method of extorting the company. In the media, a Smithfield official cited the lawsuit as necessary by claiming that the company was "under attack," while union officials responded by calling the lawsuit an "attack on democracy and free speech." In October 2008, the UFCW and Smithfield reached an agreement, under which the union agreed to suspend its boycott campaign in return for the company dropping its RICO lawsuit and allowing another election. On December 10 and 11, workers at the plant voted 2,041 to 1,879 in favor of joining the UFCW, bringing the 15-year fight to an end.

UFCW and Wal-Mart

Wal-Martmarker, a non-unionized company, has repeatedly been accused by the UFCW of treating its workers poorly and driving down employment standards. The UFCW has repeatedly attempted to organize the chain, but these attempts have been unsuccessful in the United States.

In Canadamarker, the UFCW managed to win union recognition at two Wal-Martmarker stores in Quebecmarker. One of these locations, in Jonquière, Que., was subsequently "shelved" and the other unionization was appealled. The Supreme Court of Canadamarker, refused to hear the Wal-Mart appeal. The union has also applied for recognition at a dozen other Wal-Marts and has won a contract with a Wal-Mart store in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada.

In April 2005, as part of a volley of accusatory websites created by Wal-Mart and the UFCW, the union created Wake Up Wal-Mart, a U.S.-based website and campaign with the stated goal of reforming Wal-Mart's business practices.

UFCW and Tesco

In 2007, Tescomarker, a British corporation, opened a chain of U.S. grocery stores under the Fresh & Easy banner. To date, no stores in the chain are unionized. In 2008, the UFCW and MP Jon Cruddas launched a campaign in Britain attacking the company's refusal to negotiate with the union. The campaign alleges that Tesco is not acting in the highest standards by which it operates in the UK as it concerns employee rights.

UFCW and Bashas'

In 2007, Bashas' filed a lawsuit against UFCW with the Supreme Court of Arizona. The lawsuit names the UFCWand the union's operatives - including its false-front organization, "Hungry for Respect" - for alleged defamation and intentionally interfering with the grocer's operations to extort an agreement for union representation. The company also named Radio Campesina (a project of the United Farm Workers Union founded by Cesar Chavez), Councilman Michael Nowakosky, and Reverend Trina Zelle as defendants.

Reform Efforts in the UFCW

A number of groups composed of UFCW employees have assembled with stated goals of reforming the UFCW and challenging allegedly corrupt or undemocratic practices.

The oldest such effort, Research-Education-Advocacy-People (REAP), was founded in 1989 and primarily based in the meat packing side of the union.

The UFCW Members for Democracy (MFD) were founded in 1997 as a grassroots slate challenging the leadership of UFCW Local 1518 in British Columbia, Canadamarker. The Members for Democracy later expanded their scope to a broader community of reform-minded workers in the Canadian and U.S. labor movements.

In 2003, workers at Foster Farms plants around Livingston, Californiamarker voted to leave UFCW Local 1288 and later founded founded the League of Independent Workers of the San Joaquin Valley.


  1. " A New Labor Movement?", International Socialist Review Issue 01, Summer 1997. Retrieved 2009-01-04.

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