Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Battle under way for top union spot

WAYNE HEILMAN Updated: September 3, 2012 at 12:00 am

Three years after ousting the longtime leader of one of the state’s largest unions while running on the same election ticket, Kim Cordova and Cindy Lucero are facing off against each other and a third candidate for the presidency of United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 7.

Cordova is seeking re-election to a second three-year term, while Lucero is opposing her while serving as secretary-treasurer of the 25,000-member local, which represents grocery workers, meat packing plant employees and health care workers in Colorado and Wyoming. Lois “Angel” Criswell, a meat cutter at a Colorado Springs Safeway store, also is running for the president’s post. Ballots were mailed to members last week and must be returned by noon Sept. 17; results are expected by Sept. 19. A runoff election must be held if no candidate wins a majority.

The campaign heated up recently when Cordova’s campaign sent out a mailing to union members that included their Social Security numbers as part of the address label. Many members complained and Local 7 spokesman Mark Belkin said two workers in the union’s information technology department were fired as a result of the incident.

“We take this very seriously and are taking steps to make sure this never happens again. We know that this is a mistake that is not acceptable to our members,” Belkin said. Cordova, he added, “had nothing to do with the mechanics of addressing the letters or the mistake that occurred.”

Cordova and Lucero headed a slate, which also included 19 board members, that swept Ernest Duran Jr. out of Local 7’s top job that he had held for all but two years between 1991 and 2009; his ouster came amid allegations of nepotism and questions about how Duran and his two children spent union funds.

The relationship between Cordova and Lucero soured less than a year later, Lucero said, when she questioned more than $80,000 in Christmas bonuses given to staffers at the union’s Arvada headquarters when the union’s rank-and-file members were asked to forgo an annual Christmas party each bargaining unit hosted. Lucero said she also opposed a two-year contract extension Local 7 agreed to in May with Albertsons, King Soopers and Safeway in exchange for $11 million to stabilize the union’s financially troubled health plan.

“When I questioned the bonuses, Kim told me she was president and she could give them,” Lucero said. “It has just been a spiraling effect since then. I don’t agree with a lot of things she has done. I am not a lap dog. If I disagree, I am going to say something. That is why I am running for president of the local.”

Lucero said she plans to cut her annual pay as president to $100,000 from $150,000 if she is elected and use the savings to hire more union representatives to handle worker grievances and other issues for members. Lucero was a longtime Colorado Springs resident until she moved to Arvada in 2010, when she was elected secretary-treasurer.

She started her grocery industry career with King Soopers in the Springs, working there for 11 years and becoming a union steward before joining Local 7’s staff and executive board.

Criswell could not be reached for comment, but her campaign’s website (truthforworkers.com) pledges to investigate and report on the financial condition of the union’s health insurance and other funds, negotiate higher wages and benefits for less-experienced union members and have union representatives visit stores and plants more often. The site also blames both Cordova and Lucero for a decline in Local 7’s membership, negotiated contracts that included numerous concessions to grocery chains and a litany of other charges.

Cordova said Thursday she dropped Lucero from her re-election slate in favor of Kevin Schneider, a director at Local 7’s Arvada headquarters, because he “will be a stronger secretary-treasurer because he has more experience.” She said she replaced Lucero after Lucero told her she wanted to move out of the Denver area. Cordova said she is seeking re-election because she has “unfinished business,” including another round of contract negotiations with the three grocery chains in 2015.

Cordova said she has won more than $50 million in back pay for workers by settling thousands of grievances with the grocery chains and JBS, which owns the meat plant where Local 7 members work, and that she wants to raise wages for less-experienced workers and restore the ability of union members to retire at age 50 after 30 years of work. She said concessions in the current contract were already negotiated by the time she became president and that membership had declined due to store and meat plant cutbacks.

“For years, this local had an adversarial relationship with the employers and the employees suffered because of it. What I have done is try to change the culture on how to argue, bargain and settle an issue with the employers,” Cordova said. “The last few contracts have been reached through negotiations with third-party mediators and workers ended up accepting the last, best and final offers the employers made. In all of our contracts, the bargaining committee has voted unanimously to accept the agreements we negotiated and they were ratified by 97 percent of the members.”

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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