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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2003

Union to picket Kroger over pickle sales


A local farm workers union plans to protest outside Kroger's shareholder meeting today to try to get the grocery chain to stop selling Mt. Olive Pickles.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee is boycotting the North Carolina-based pickle company because it wants Mt. Olive to sign a contract with cucumber farmers and migrant workers.

The group hopes to have up to 500 people protesting at the meeting in Cincinnati, then passing out leaflets at a dozen groceries around the city.

“It's just a stage for what we really want to do. We really want to go after Kroger competitors,” FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez said. The idea is that if Kroger stopped selling the pickles, the union would encourage people to shop there instead of the other grocery chains in the South, which stock Mt. Olive pickles.

The pickles have been pulled from more than 100 stores, including stores in Columbus and other parts of Ohio. No Toledo grocery stocks Mt. Olive pickles.

Gary Rhodes, a Kroger spokesman, said the decision whether to stock the pickles is made in each market, and the pickles were pulled from shelves in some areas because they were not the best sellers.

Mr. Velasquez said that could be because of the attention the union and its supporters brought through protests and leaflets.

“Remember, we made a lot of noise when they did have the pickles here,” he said. “It does not really matter, the reason why.”

FLOC has been trying to unionize migrant workers in the South, much as it did in Ohio and Michigan. Mt. Olive is the biggest pickle seller in the South, and the union hopes if a contract is signed among the company, growers, and farm workers, smaller companies will follow suit.

The union said it is important to sign three-way contracts, because if growers signed contracts with farm workers, pickle companies could choose to contract with other growers who have no contracts, and cheaper costs.

Lynn Williams, a Mt. Olive spokesman, said that while the company stresses good employment practices among the farmers it works with, Mt. Olive believes that unionization is something that should be done at the farm level.

“We think it's inappropriate for us to force other employers to unionize,” she said. “We think these are decisions that should be made by the farms and the farm workers.”

“We're being targeted in this boycott in FLOC's attempt to unionize labor in North Carolina,” she said.

Blade staff writer Erica Blake contributed to this report.

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