The war against Food Lion, Phase II
The death struggle between the Food Lion supermarket chain and the grocery store unions goes on, as labor does its best to destroy a business that it wasn't able to unionize. As part of its strategy to ruin Food Lion, the unions handed a trumped-up story of unsafe food-handling to the ABC news show "PrimeTime Live." Diane Sawyer and her producers worked hand-in-hand with the union, and then did their best to pretend that it had little or no role in the broadcast.
The story, which was presented as "investigative" journalism, hit Food Lion hard - so hard that the chain is closing 88 stores this year. More than 1,300 full-time workers will lose their jobs and 2,200 part-time employees will have to look for work. The union's strategy is working, and now that it has Food Lion on the ropes, it is trying to throw a knock-out punch, this time by alleging that the store sells unsafe baby formula.
That's hardball. It's one thing to plant a story! that a grocery store is selling old fish the stench of which has been removed with Clorox, but another thing altogether to say that there is bad baby food on the shelves.
This charge is part of an official "corporate campaign" launched by the United Food and Commercial Workers International and other food service unions against Food Lion. With a corporate campaign, as union literature brashly explains, labor can put recalcitrant food stores out of business by leaking safety and health charges to the media. The UFCW launched its corporate campaign after failing repeatedly to convince Food Lion workers they would be better off in the union. That failure did not mean solely a loss in union dues; it was a direct threat to the inflated union wages and diseconomic work rules that the UFCW has wheedled out of other grocery chains, such as Safeway and Giant.
Because of cheaper, more efficient workers, Food Lion is able to price its goods cheaper than other chains. In ord! er to compete, those chains must then renegotiate their contracts with the union. In this way, the other grocery stores become accomplices in the union's corporate campaigns against non-union upstarts. When Food Lion announced last year it would begin opening stores in the Washington area, officials at Safeway and Giant made it clear to the UFCW that it would have to do something about the threatened competition. Who said labor and manageme nt can't work together?
For a truly successful corporate campaign, however, the unions can't come out and make charges themselves. It would be obvious to everyone that union complaints about a non-union shop might be a little biased and self-serving. And so it was that a previously unheard of outfit called "Consumers United with Employees" (CUE) went to the Food and Drug Administration last week with its complaint that Food Lion has expired infant formula for sale. This "consumer" organization is of course a front group, run out of the offices of the Food and Allied Services Trades union.
The CUE "report" - as propaganda is euphemistically referred to in the press these days - was called "A Formula for Disaster" and was full of apocalyptic language. According to the CUE press release, "The study details the shocking results of an investigation concluding that Food Lion . . . has repeatedly sold infant formula beyond its expiration date. Such sales violate both state and federal law." These "shocking" results are actually just a compilation of year's worth of regular state food inspection reports in which Food Lion had the sort of trivial violations that are common in the industry. Though it sounds frightening that baby formula has gone past its due date, the date is there not to indicate when the formula goes "bad" but just a s a limit on the length of time the manufacturer will guarantee its nutritional content. Also note that the CUE did not compile statistics on the number of infant formula violations in union shops, though such a comparison would be! most instructive.
The union front group also did some rudimenta ry investigative work itself, going to Food Lion stores and looking for any past-date baby formula. The group "found that 37.5 percent of the 317 stores visited were selling outdated infant formula." This is a wonderfully misleading statistical backflip. The impression given is that more than a third of the baby food sold by Food Lion has gone bad. All the figure really means is that in a third of the stores the union group "inspected," it was able to find at least one can of formula that had gone at least one date past due and hadn't yet been removed.
Even if that finding is enough to cause concern, given the unions' stake in ruining Food Lion, it's at least worth investigating all the possible ways past-dated formula might have ended up on shelves. For example, it would not be a difficult thing to go into a store, put a can of some time-sensitive product at the back of the shelf - mixed in with the most recent and later-dated shipment. A week later, someone migh! t come back to find that the can was still there, past its due date and an affront to food safety.
The corporate campaign against Food Lion amounts to little more than a large-scale dirty trick. The real story here has nothing to do with infant formula and everything to do with a high-stakes, big-money gambit to kill off competition.
Bron: The Washington Times | February 7, 1994
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