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Petition filed by Union Kitchen employee to end relationship with union is B.S., union rep says

Union Kitchen in Ballston (staff photo)

A petition filed by a Union Kitchen employee is calling for the end to its relationship with its labor union, but the union is dismissing the effort as a ploy by management.

It was announced on Friday that a Union Kitchen employee has filed a petition with the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) to end its relationship with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400. The petition has reportedly been signed by a number of Union Kitchen employees, including those who work at the Ballston location

This would effectively end UFCW Local 400’s ability to bargain and support unionized employees at Union Kitchen.

“Employees of five Union Kitchen Grocery locations in the Washington, DC, metro area have filed a petition seeking to end United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400’s monopoly bargaining power over workers,” reads a press release. “The employees submitted their decertification petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 5 with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.”

But a UFCW Local 400 spokesperson insisted that this effort isn’t legit, accusing Union Kitchen management of being involved in the petition and using potentially illegal tactics, like intimidating employees, to sign the petition.

“Our take is that it’s basically bullshit,” Travis Acton said. “We knew this was coming. This is not a surprise. The only thing, honestly, that caught me by surprise is how blatantly illegal they’re going about it.”

It was just over a year ago when employees at five Union Kitchens voted in favor of forming a union, including the one in Ballston on Wilson Blvd. That came after a long-running effort that was delayed due to challenged ballots and charges of unfair labor practices. It has continued to be a contentious relationship ever since.

In November, the NLRB determined that Union Kitchen management violated 26 counts of labor law including union-busting tactics and wrongfully terminating employees. In March of this year, the union filed a wage theft lawsuit against management. And just last month, the union called for a boycott of all Union Kitchen locations.

The boycott remains ongoing, Acton said.

The employees who are calling for the decertification are being provided “free legal aid” by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to “eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism abuses.”

In the press release sent out by National Right to Work, the organization said that a single employee submitted the petition but it has been supported “by the vast majority of her coworkers.” The employee claimed in a letter sent to Union Kitchen CEO Cullen Gilchrist that close to 90% of workers signed the petition, as reported by the Washington Business Journal.

Acton said that those numbers might be misleading. He told ARLnow that in recent months the company has significantly added to the list of employees that are eligible to be represented by the union. Acton claims that a number of those added employees are actually people in management roles, those who own brands sold at the store, and those who might have personal relationships with Gilchrist.

“Nobody’s ever seen them work in the store or work an actual shift in the store,” he said.

Plus, Acton claimed, that he’s heard from employees who felt like they were forced to sign the petition or they would get fired.

Based on our experience over the last six months to a year of them firing anybody who comes to the bargaining table, who supports the union, I believe them,” he said.

Intimidation of this nature is potentially illegal, according to federal law.

As expected, Union Kitchen CEO Cullen Gilchrist supports the petition to end the company’s employees’ relationship with the union and specifically noted the ongoing boycott as the reason for his support in the following email to ARLnow.

Our employees have resoundingly told UFCW they don’t want them falsely representing them anymore. UFCW has been boycotting our stores, stopping customers from going in, and lying that they were doing this for our employees. As this makes clear, they only boycotted to hurt us and our employees and are acting [as] bullies. We ask that they respect our employees wishes and accept the decertification and stop their boycott. UFCW should not be trying to destroy businesses.

Union Kitchen is important to our local economy. Union Kitchen has launched and invested in over 200 companies including successful companies like Vegetable and Butcher, Caribe, Compass Coffee, Mas Panadas, and Stone’s Throw Foods. These companies are overwhelmingly more successful than their peers and are overwhelmingly female or BIPOC founded. These companies have created over 1000 jobs and $100s of millions in revenue. We should be helping, not hindering, our local economy.

In our stores, Union Kitchen pays more than other local stores and union shops and offers a training program to every employee to go from entry level cashier work to a manager. All of our managers started at the cashier position and we are very proud of that accomplishment.

We ask that people call on UFCW to respect the wishes of our employees, stop their bullying and harmful boycott, and stop threatening our business.

An NLRB hearing is scheduled for August 2, as the Washington Business Journal reports, to determine if the decertification effort has enough employee support to continue.

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