Safeway Inc., the second-largest food retailer in North America, has signed an agreement with the United Farm Workers supporting berry workers' rights to organize and have decent working conditions, the company and union announced Monday.
The Pleasanton-based supermarket chain is the latest company to sign such an accord with the UFW, which is in its second year of trying to organize California's 20,000 strawberry workers. American Stores, Ralphs and A&P have made similar pledges.
"These rights are truly human rights that everyone in America should enjoy today," said Safeway spokeswoman Debra Lambert. "Simply stated, Safeway's action today is the right thing to do."
Safeway will tell growers of its decision and its expectation that they obey rules concerning working conditions and organizing rights. The agreement, however, does not mean that Safeway will refuse to buy nonunion strawberries or reject berries from companies with which the union has disputes.
But UFW President Arturo Rodriguez called the pact significant in that it will tell growers that the supermarket industry increasingly supports workers' rights: "We believe it is part of a new day of hope for farm workers in our state and the union," he said in a conference call with reporters.
Safeway operates 1,368 stores in the United States and Canada and has an estimated $22 billion in yearly sales. The UFW said the agreement brings to 27 the number of food retailers to sign. Those companies represent a total of more than 4,500 stores.