Steward’s Corner: In a ‘Right to Work’ State, Union Grows by Fighting Racism

Source: Laverne Wrenn, Labor Notes, March 4, 2015

…Even with a strong union, we often have to confront racism in our workplaces. I’ve worked for the Kroger grocery chain in Portsmouth, Virginia, for 16 years, and I know from personal experience what it’s like to fight racism on the job. In 2011 a new manager arrived at my store. It quickly became clear she had a problem with everyone working at the store who was black, including me. She would target black workers, disciplining us for things that white workers would not get in trouble for. Simple things, like not signing off when you cleaned the bathroom, would result in a write-up for anyone who was black—but not for white workers who did the same thing. When the weather was bad, it would be black workers who were sent to get carts. When there was a spill, black workers would be assigned to clean it up. The pattern was clear….

….We continued to document everything she did. We put together a team of people from different departments and shifts to make sure we caught every incident. We filed grievances every time we could, so that Kroger would recognize it had a problem manager. As we got stronger, the manager got more desperate in her attempts to get rid of us. Finally she made a mistake even Kroger could not ignore. She was trying to get some of the “black girls” fired for not signing their names properly after cleaning the deli. To make them look worse, she forged a customer comment card with a complaint. She got caught.
After nearly two years, she was finally gone. My co-workers and I got rid of the bad, racist manager, and came out stronger….

Stopping Racist Managers
Build unity: Don’t let management’s divisive tactics keep you apart. Our manager was clearly catering to white workers, doing them favors and giving them preferential treatment. But we called her out and continued to work together as a union. If the union allows managers to treat one group worse, the union gets weaker—and that hurts everyone.
Stand up: Even in “right to work” states, your union protects you.
Take notes: I kept a journal every day to use as evidence, and brought up past racist words and actions.
Do not give up: Companies often don’t want to admit they have bad managers. It can take time to win. Keep fighting. …