Amid the drama of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555’s recall campaign against pro-union Rep. Paul Holvey is another union-related ruckus.
UFCW 555 hired Osprey Field Services, a signature-collecting company owned by Joe Emmons, to collect signatures for the recall petition. On July 28, employees of Osprey attempted to form a union of their own, United Petitioners of Oregon (UPO). However the unionizing employees were laid off when UFCW 555 ended its contract with Osprey.
“Our unionization was spurred by a consistent misrepresentation of hours worked, and other serious discrepancies,” UPO says in a news release. UPO alleges “instances of female-identifying employees being paid less than male-identifying employees for the same job description,” and that “several employees expressed concerns over the lack of respect given to employees, and some instances of discrimination, by Joe Emmons.”
When asked about the hours-worked discrepancies, Emmons says, “There were no missing budget hours. There was a manager that was responsible for tracking budget hours, Erik Fletcher. I consistently told him I need budget hours entered every single night for the work that has been done so that I can accurately reflect that on paychecks.”
Fletcher tells Eugene Weekly that he never received a contract or job description detailing what his role was, and that Emmons had the same access to records that he did and had the ability to audit hours.
“The first week I was responsible for data entry for payroll, Joe decided to do payroll early because he was anxious to go on vacation. I was unaware of this and all payroll data entry had not been completed,” Fletcher says.
The union formed the first week of July, and Fletcher says that when Emmons became aware of the union, “he demanded [Fletcher] take the blame for the payroll issues.”
“Blaming me for this was something he eventually retracted in a recorded discussion with the union, and he took full responsibility for the payroll errors,” Fletcher says.
When UPO formed, the workers listed their demands and created a deadline for Emmons to voluntarily recognize the union. UPO also reached out to UFCW 555 for support and says the organization initially got it.
“I personally would be happy to recognize [the union, but] me as a business owner, it would be illegal for me to recognize their union without seeing proof of their vote. They did not present me with that,” Emmons says.
The National Labor Relations Board states, “Your employer may voluntarily recognize a union based on evidence — typically signed union-authorization cards — that a majority of employees want it to represent them.”
EW spoke with UPO members who later followed up with emails. UPO says that they provided Emmons and UFCW 555 with “collective assurance that his employees unanimously entered into a union together to begin collective bargaining,” and that in an in-person payroll discussion on Friday July 14, “members all verbally shared our unionization with Joe when he refused to voluntarily recognize.”
The following Monday, UFCW 555 ended its contract with Osprey, later laying off every member of UPO. The following week, UPO says in its press release that UFCW 555 renewed its contract with Osprey and hired new employees not associated with UPO to continue canvassing for the Holvey recall campaign.
“It’s heartbreaking. Because we want to be able to trust that institutions like labor unions, which are here to support workers’ rights, would join in solidarity and hear the concerns of other workers who are experiencing difficulties,” says Emma Lavin, former Osprey employee and current member of UPO.
“We offered our support for the workers wanting to unionize, we think that’s great. We decided to go a different direction for a campaign we were running, bringing it back in-house,” UFCW communication director Miles Eshaia says.
UPO has filed unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and is currently working to file complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries in regard to their wage and hour, and discrimination complaints.
“We are concerned that there would be continuous mistreatment of workers in Eugene, Oregon, or future Oregonian employees, if we don’t speak up and raise awareness about the corruption we have experienced firsthand by Osprey Field Services/Joe Emmons and UFCW555/Mike Selvaggio, [and] Dan Clay,” UPO says.
When asked about the attempted unionization, Selvaggio tells EW, “We’re disappointed that Rep. Holvey didn’t push as hard to bring these rights to more workers in Oregon as he pushed in order to cut worker pensions.”
He adds, “If you hear or suspect that the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act] process isn’t being followed or respected in this case, please let me know; I don’t have any reason to think it’s not.”
Multiple letters to the editor and first person accounts tell of people’s experiences interacting with petitioners who have asked if people support grocery workers. Only when looking at the actual petition sheet does it become clear that the petition is actually a recall campaign against Holvey.
“All I can say is that we had a basic understanding that we derived from the pamphlets and flyers that were created by UFCW 555. And all we could do is rely on our own off-the-clock resource research to get more information,” says Amelia Liotta, UPO member. “When you’re met with conflicting information, yet you have these signature requirements to keep your job,” she adds, “it creates “a toxic environment.”