Honoring Dr. King and His Advocacy for Workers

On January 15th, 2024, as a nation, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his many accomplishments and the significant impact he made on the rights of the American people. Among his fight for equality for people of all races, Dr. King also deeply cared and advocated for the right of workers and Unions. As workers, our Union has benefited from Dr. King’s dream and work toward a more just society.

Dr. King's Support for Unions and Labor Workers

    • King was supporting a peaceful union struggle for striking sanitation workers at the time of his assassination in Memphis, TN. 
    • Dr. King said at the Illinois AFL-CIO Convention, “When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over our nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”
    • He also mentioned in his speech in 1967 how workers “pressed into these services need union protection, and the union movement needs their membership to maintain its relative strength in the whole society.”

The Life and Work of Martin Luther King Jr.

    • King was not the only member of this family to be assassinated. His mother, Alberta Williams King, was shot and killed in 1974 in her Atlanta church while playing the organ.
    • King was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and a Medal of Freedom. He was also awarded a Grammy in 1971 for Best Spoken Word Album, “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam”
    • King is to date the youngest male to win a Nobel Peace Prize, winning at the age of 35 in 1964. 
    • When accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, his speech included the famous statement, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
    • King donated all of the $54,123 (about $400,000 today) he received for Nobel Peace Prize to the Civil Rights Movement. 
    • King improvised parts of the famous “I Have A Dream” speech in August 1963. Towards the end of the speech, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson prompted him to speak about the “dream”. 
    • King’s autopsy revealed that stress had taken a major toll on his body. Despite being just 39 at the time of his death, one of the doctors noted that he had the “heart of a 60 year old”. 
    • Today, over 900 streets in the United States are named after Martin Luther King Jr. with one such street in almost every major city. This is not even counting the number of buildings, schools, etc. named after him. 
    • King is the only non-president with a memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
    • Martin Luther King Jr. is also celebrated in Toronto, Canada and Hiroshima, Japan. 
    • It was not until the year 2000 that all 50 states officially observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The holiday itself was originally signed into federal law by President Reagan, with the first holiday held on January 20, 1986.

Dr. King’s activism and vision have strengthened the rights of America’s working families and will continue to challenge and inspire generations to come. 

2023 Highlights: What Your Union Accomplished For You

A Message from Local 881 President Steve Powell.

As we are beginning the New Year, we want to look back and give you the highlights of what Local 881 was doing for you in 2023! 

Putting out the Payroll Dumpster Fire

Local 881 members faced incredible hardships during 2023 due to significant payroll mistakes at the hands of their employers. Many Mariano’s and Kroger members had paychecks go missing or incurred surprise unlawful repayments. Other members saw errors in benefit deductions, miscalculations of vacation pay, or incorrect processing of Union Dues.

Local 881 Representatives fielded thousands of calls and worked diligently to correct these errors. The Reps focused much of the year on getting our members their money back and holding the employers accountable. I hope this experience has been a wake-up call. Watch your paycheck and tell the Union if you see an error. The Union is here to protect both you AND your paycheck.

Nearly $1 million Recovered for Local 881 Members

We saw a huge increase in Grievances related to the payroll errors. As a result, the yearly totals for recovered pay for our members may be our highest amount ever.

Check out the recent 881 Progress newsletter to read the latest grievances.

Remember, the Local 881 Grievance Procedure holds your company accountable and puts money owed to members back where it belongs—in the hands of the workers! When in doubt, call the Union! 

Let’s Go! Return to Popular Member Events!

This year, Local 881 returned to in-person events! In the spring, the popular 25-year Anniversary Celebrations were welcomed back with open arms by the membership. In addition, after a four-year hiatus, our annual Steward Educational Conferences were resumed. 

New Faces to Better Serve Members

After retirements and changes, 2023 saw an influx of 10 new hires to Local 881 staff. We are strategically adding staff so that knowledge and expertise can be passed on and service to the members never wavers. 

A Bigger, Stronger, & More Powerful Union

Huge victories were won in our 2023 Organizing Campaigns. Early in the year, four separate La Colombe Coffee locations in Chicago voted UNANIMOUSLY to join Local 881. It is difficult enough to win a Union election but getting ALL the workers in a location to vote ‘Union Yes’ is rare—four locations is unheard of. Not only do these wins point to the new wave of workers standing up for themselves, but it also gives Local 881 a strong foothold in the retail coffee industry.

More recently, on November 1st, Curaleaf workers at the cannabis cultivation center in Litchfield, Illinois also voted to be represented by Local 881. Workers were encouraged by other Local 881 members to join our Union to improve their workplace. This is the second cultivation center added to our Union. 

Getting it Done at the Bargaining Table

We were pleased to finish several contracts this year, including new agreements for workers at Osco Pharmacy, and Schnucks and Kroger locations. In addition, Windy City Cannabis workers in Homewood and Posen, and Consume Cannabis workers in Marion were able to vote to ratify their very first Union Contract. With this addition, our number of Local 881-represented cannabis work locations up to nine!

Getting Policies in Place that Help Members & the Community!

Local 881 worked closely with the sponsors and led labor advocacy for the Illinois Grocery Initiative. A first-of-its-kind $20 million program to put three Union grocery stores in designated food deserts across the state.

Local 881 also advocated for the passage of the Paid Leave for All Workers Act, which establishes a minimum of 5 paid days off for all Illinois workers each year.

Considering the current challenges in the world, we have much to be grateful for. We know that when we stand together, much can be accomplished!

We are committed to continue building this Union for the benefit of our membership!

On behalf of Local 881’s Leadership, Executive Board, and Staff, we wish you and your family a happy and healthy Holiday Season and a prosperous New Year!

Meet Kim Stewart: Shop Steward, Jewel-Osco Employee

Our members make the holidays happen. They play an essential role in our community. Whether it be keeping the shelves stocked, helping customers with their holiday orders or guiding people through difficult family gatherings with cannabis recommendations, our work is essential during the holidays.  The Illinois AFL-CIO interviewed Kim Stewart, long-term member at Jewel, and members and asked her experience with working during the holiday season. We are so excited that Kim and the hard work of our members was recognized by the larger labor community. Continue scrolling to read the full interview.

What is your job, union and local?

I am a DriveUp and Go shopper at Jewel-Osco in Melrose Park, IL where I have worked for fifteen years. I have also served on the front end as an assistant manager, checker and on the back end in the produce department and general merchandise. 

What is your role in the union?

I am a proud member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881. At our store, I serve as the shop steward and I also sit on the local’s executive board.

What is it like to work in the grocery industry during the holiday season?

It’s intense, hectic, and enjoyable at the same time! I love interacting with customers and building relationships with regulars. We help the holidays come alive for these individuals and strive to go the extra mile to make sure they have what they need for the perfect holiday meal.

It can also be extremely stressful to work in a grocery store around the holidays. Customers are time crunched and often on a short fuse. The store personnel do their best to handle the high volume of shoppers. However, it requires extra patience, compassion and meeting people where they are at during a time when both our customers and store personnel are under tremendous pressure. 

When situations arise, I do my best to keep my composure and deescalate the situation because I want to focus on serving the customer by helping them meet their holiday shopping needs.

Can you walk me through a typical work-day during the holiday week?

On Monday, I began at 5am after commuting nearly an hour to work. 

The first thing I do is sign in on the computer and make sure all the DriveUp and Go orders have been closed from the prior day. On Monday, the computer system decided to crash and it took us another hour and a half to get it up and running.

While the team was navigating the technology issues, the phone was already ringing with customers calling for refunds and special orders.

Once we got the computers fixed, I was able to go back to my shopping – this involved picking orders for individuals and coordinating with the deli, bakery and other departments to fulfill customer requests. 

Right now, there are more customers in the store than is typical. When I am picking an order, customers will frequently stop me and ask for help. It’s important that we assist them. It’s also pertinent to recognize the invisibility that comes with roles like mine. Customers will often see me working in the aisle, and they fail to realize that I am working for another customer who is behind a computer screen and have a deadline to meet. 

We are also short staffed (and have been since COVID) which adds an extra layer of tension because customers want to be served. Customer service is a significant pillar of the grocery industry, and it is helpful to acknowledge that my colleagues and I are also human beings. We can only be in one place at one time and look forward to serving our customers as soon as we are able to do so.

UFCW talks about how “members make the holidays.” What types of things do you do at work to prepare for the season and make it special for your customers?

It’s important to remember that people are under a lot of pressure this time of year.

We do not always know what is going on in their lives or what meaning the holidays have for them.

I approach this by treating people with respect, developing a human connection with them, and simply trying to bring ease into their day and a smile to their face.  

You mentioned that you enjoy your job. Tell me more about that.

I love starting the day by putting a smile on someone’s face. We live in an age where people are glued to their screens and smart devices.

Human interaction is becoming an anomaly, and I enjoy helping people remember the joy of interacting with one another and building relationships. 

As a customer service professional, it is a pleasure to pick out a great order for my customer. I want to share my tricks of the trade and find them the best product that will allow them to have a great experience with our store.

Are you able to spend the holidays with your family or will you be at work?

I am blessed and do spend the holidays with my family. However, many people working in the grocery industry do not have that privilege.

A lot of workers will finish their shift at 4pm, and they still need to commute home following an exhausting, full day of work during one of the busiest days of the year.

How do you take care of yourself and prepare yourself for the holiday rush?

Self-care is critical! Our labor is physical, mental and emotional.

We are on our feet all day long, lifting heavy products and handling many types of personalities – both with each other as colleagues and our customers. 

Most of us start work very early or work late and have a long commute on top of that.

Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and treating myself to things I enjoy like a massage are critical for my mental and physical well-being.

How has the union impacted your life? What would you like people to know about being a union member?

We have a very good, strong union. I love and am grateful for Local 881.

The union has impacted me in so many positive ways. The local saved my job when Jewel terminated me for taking an extended maternity leave.

Together, we were able to build a case and demonstrate that I followed all the proper protocols. I was later reinstated.

My work in the local has also helped me build relationships and use my voice. I am constantly learning from my fellow union leaders and appreciate the opportunity to show others what the union difference looks like. 

With holidays upon us, take care of yourself. Let us know how we can help you. Should you have any questions, please contact your Union Representative at 847-294-5064 to discuss any concerns you have.

Communication is Key

Thank You for Taking the Survey!

Thank you so much to everyone who took time to complete the 2023 Communications Survey and congratulations to the winners of the Yeti raffle! We received hundreds of responses! All of them were read, analyzed, and appreciated by our Communications team and we are working to make changes based off of your feedback. 

We heard you, and we are working on making Local 881 a better Union for our members. We learned a lot about our membership from the findings within this survey, and we have a better idea of what members need from us now. 

Many members inquired about our social media. Our social media pages are active and updated regularly! We encourage you to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to get updates on Union news, meeting dates, and other important information. Click the social media icons above to be redirected to our pages. 

Meet the Winners!

Joanna Dibenedetto
Osco 125 (#3348) – Bartlett, IL
presented by Union Representative Katie Mazzullo

Maria Fiscal-Vargas
Jewel 370 (#3376) – Chicago, IL
presented by Union Representative Nisha Brown

Nathaniel Cimaroli
SVT 9825 (#8795) – St. John, IN
presented by Union Representative Eric Hernandez

Vicki Bero
Jewel 507 (#2265) – La Grange Park, IL
presented by Union Representative Moises Zavala

Edward Duglow
Mariano’s 5353 (#507 ) – Chicago, IL
presented by Union Representative Darius Brown

Samantha Hanson
Schnuck’s – Carbondale, IL
presented by Union Representative Nick Coulter

Gary Threet
Kroger – Harrisburg, IL
presented by Union Representative Wesley Tartt

Ross Tumbarello
Dierbergs – Shiloh, IL
presented by Union Representative Nicole Beasenburg

Curaleaf Cultivation Workers in Litchfield Vote Union Yes

Curaleaf Workers Deserve to Have a Voice!

A new group of Curaleaf workers have voted overwhelming to join Local 881 UFCW, the largest cannabis union in Illinois. The workers at Curaleaf’s cultivation facility in Litchfield, Illinois held their Union Representation election on November 1, 2023.

Usually when the majority of votes from workers are in the Union’s favor, under U.S. Labor Law, the company is obligated to recognize the Union. However, Curaleaf has chosen to delay this recognition and with frivolous, unbased objections to the validity of the election process. Although technically allowed, “Union avoidance” tactics like this clearly show the company is trying to stall and create roadblocks for the workers to exercise their legal right to unionize. Curaleaf has chosen to begin what could be an expensive legal battle instead of respecting the wishes of their workers.

Nearly 100 Litchfield workers have been fed up with the working conditions and the culture of disrespect that Curaleaf has cultivated since taking over the facility in 2021. Despite growing and selling a progressive and cutting-edge product, Curaleaf’s business practices are just as anti-worker as the big corporations. The workers are tired of the fear-based culture and environment of intimidation. The workers demand Curaleaf do better!

Workers from the Litchfield facility approached Local 881 after learning about the Curaleaf Dispensary workers’ organizing efforts. Curaleaf dispensary workers described ‘Hunger Game” type working conditions. The dispensary workers from across the state made time to meet with the Litchfield workers and confirmed that the Company’s tactics and practices need to be changed. The best way to do that is for cannabis workers to join Local 881!

“I personally wanted a union for safety. We are not that safe at work. Sometimes we have small pathways to walk through even in the hallways. There was one time they were doing electrical work and I had to walk right under an electrical cord that the tech held up for me. They were blocking the whole hallway. I’ve been there a little over a year, and safety is definitely an issue.”

Ashley Thompson, Production Technician at Curaleaf Litchfield

Curaleaf workers in Litchfield have reported the following issues:

    • Serious health and safety concerns, including workers getting sick, and lack of protection from facility hazards.
    • Workers being thrown into different roles without proper training and without commensurate compensation for taking on more responsibilities.
    • If a worker raised concerns with management, the worker would experience retaliation and be isolated from their coworkers. Curaleaf also called their employees names like, ‘poison’ or ‘the root of evil’.
    • Workers tried organizing in the past. The company responded with aggressive union-busting tactics and hiring paid HR consultants to convince workers to vote against the Union.

“I want a job title and to know what I’m walking into every day! I want fair wages and a say in how my work operates! I want my voice heard!”

Jack Brockus, Delivery Driver

“The Curaleaf Litchfield workers have clearly spoken. They want Union Representation with Local 881,” said Steve Powell, President, Local 881UFCW. “Workers want to be respected and heard. When workers stand up together, they are hard to ignore! It’s time for Curaleaf to listen!”

We are incredibly proud of these brave workers who are standing up for positive and meaningful change in this industry and we are diligently supporting them. Local 881 is honored to represent cannabis workers at nine locations throughout Illinois. For over a decade, Local 881 has been committed to ensuring that the cannabis industry lives up to the promises it made to the communities when it lobbied for their support for legalization. Our Union has been successful in negotiating wage increases, more paid leave, increased employee product discount, a robust grievance procedure, and stronger protection language for cannabis workers.

Interested in unionizing? Contact Teresa Ramirez-Gonzalez.

Windy City Cannabis Wins Union Contract!

Posen and Homewood Dispensary Workers Vote UNION YES With Their First Union Contract

“Congratulations Team! It has been a long journey to get to this point. Thank you all for your patience, support and for being a team worth fighting for. I am excited and hopeful for the future of all of my fellow bud-tenders looking to establish a career in this budding industry! Aim high, stay high.”


~ Tiny (Destiny) Dispensary Associate, Windy City Posen

Aiming High

Congratulations to Windy City workers on winning their first union contract. They have set the precedence for their fellow workers to have protected rights and fair working conditions.  On September 19th, workers from two Windy City locations voted overwhelmingly to ratify their respective contracts.

Windy City Posen and Homewood Dispensary workers said, “Union YES!”, and they have ratified their very first contract and earned many benefits along with it, such as annual wage increases, the ability to file grievances, and more!

Windy City Workers Chose Local 881

Windy City workers reached out to Local 881 because of the horrible situations they were experiencing at work and how unsafe they felt. They heard about Local 881’s success on behalf of other Cannabis workers and decided to reach out for help. 

They shared stories about rocks being thrown through store windows while working their shifts, how management was reluctant to do anything about serious concerns, and how basic protections and safety for the workers were barely acknowledged or enforced.

“The ability to have checks and balances, grievances, and a voice is so important in this industry, especially when owners are abusing their rights,” explains Cyndi Kazmirzak, a former bud-tender at Windy City Posen and current Organizer at Local 881. “With the ratification of the first contract for Windy City, teams that are actively trying to unionize are sincerely making waves in the industry by voting yes to amplifying their voice with the representation of a Union.”

Your Voice Is Important

Having a contract means knowing exactly what is expected of you at work, and what you can expect from your employer in return. Respect on the job is not something employers are legally required to provide to workers, but a Union contract demands it!

It is time to stand up against the unfair working conditions that the Cannabis industry is allowing their workers to suffer under. Unionizing provides you with a voice, rights, and safety. Workers in the Cannabis industry deserve a better future. To foster careers for its workers and for growth under fair circumstances. For over a decade, Local 881 has been fighting to ensure that the cannabis industry lives up to the promises it made to our communities. 

“By using your voice you’re creating stable careers for other budtenders to come.” Explains Teresa Ramirez-Gonzalez, the Organizing Director at Local 881. “By standing together and by using your voice, you now have a contract that provides you with gains, it only gets better from here. You are no longer at-will employees. Your job security is no longer at the whim of your employer.”

What The Windy City Workers Won:

      • Guaranteed yearly wage increases
      • All employees are eligible to accrue PTO
      • Improves holiday provisions
      • Defines working hours and scheduling procedure 
      • A strong grievance procedure to dispute discipline and safety issues
      • And much more!

Cannabis workers are joining with Local 881 to make meaningful change to the cannabis industry in Illinois. Local 881 has successfully negotiated for wage increases, paid leave, employee discounts, a robust grievance procedure, and stronger contractual protections for cannabis workers.  Local 881 ratified Cannabis contracts include: Ascend, Cresco, MedMen, and Sunnyside. 

Interested in unionizing? Contact Teresa Ramirez-Gonzalez. 

Workers at Osco Ratify New Three- Year Contract!

We are proud to share that the Osco Drug Contract has been ratified! 

On September 28th, members from the Local 881 Bargaining Committee counted ALL ballots received. We are pleased to report that the new contract has been approved and accepted by an overwhelming majority of Osco members. The new contract lasts for three years.

At Local 881, collective bargaining is a member-driven process. We
are incredibly grateful to your fellow hardworking Osco member, who served on the Bargaining Committee. It just makes sense to have workers who are impacted by the contract assist in negotiations.

The new improvements were informed by the concerns of
Local 881 members, was negotiated alongside members, was voted on only by active Local 881 members, and the ballots was also 
counted by members. This is what Union democracy is all about. 

Key Improvements in the New Osco Contract:

      • Guaranteed Wage Increases over the life of the contract.
      • Retro Pay for contractual wage increases will be retroactive to July 1, 2023.
      • Considerable Wage Increases for Top of Scale and Overscale members.
      • Controlled Costs for out-of-pocket health care expenses.
      • Expanded Funeral Leave to include paid time off for the death of great-grandparents.
      • Enhanced Language for additional hours to be distributed by Seniority.

Even though we don’t always get everything we bargain for, this contract is making progress towards a better future for workers. Local 881 celebrates this contract as it is historically the best and fairest offer we have received from Osco. To share your thoughts or concerns, come to a meeting, get involvedspeak with your Union Repspeak with President Powell, we are available and open to constructive criticism. With your passion, activism, and involvement, we will only be stronger.

We have been proud to represent Osco workers for decades and we have never wavered from our commitment to protecting and fighting on your behalf. You might not love or agree with everything we do, but the reality is we will always have your back. Your employer is busy trying to make every buck they can and would love nothing more than to see division within our ranks. We need to use ALL our collective strength for what is coming! 

Thank you to all the members who took the time to review the proposals and vote. The new contract is effective immediately and you will receive printed copies soon.

It is our privilege to be at your service. Should you have any questions, please contact your Union Representative at 847-294-5064 to discuss any concerns you have.

2023 Stewards Conference

Reconnecting With Our Incredible Stewards

On Tuesday, September 12th, we had our annual Steward Conference at Gibson’s Steakhouse in Oak Brook. Among the bright greetings from our Officers and the excited faces of the Stewards, we had an informative and entertaining Conference planned.

We strongly believe our Stewards are one of our Union’s most important assets. Every day they help answer questions about their contracts and provide valuable information to their coworkers. They are a critical link between the Union and our members.  Each year, Local 881 invests time and resources to help train and educate our dedicated Stewards.

Important Topics of Discussion

This year, we had several important topics of discussion. Local 881’s Organizing team highlighted the very successful La Colombe Coffee and Windy City Cannabis campaign victories. Their dedication to fighting for the rights of workers and success in doing so is something we celebrated together at the conference.

The Local 881 Collective Bargaining Team walked Stewards through the ins and outs of negotiating new contracts as well as contract renewals. They highlighted the important role Stewards play in sharing contract feedback from members with the Union.

Stewards also heard from Jonathan Karmel, Local 881’s Chief Legal Counsel. Jon explained the ways the Union is supported and protected by having legal guidance during organizing campaigns, collective bargaining, and grievances.

Our President addressed the “elephant in the room”, the Merger with Kroger and Albertson’s. He answered questions from Stewards and helped provide more information and insight into what we know and what our goals are.

Fun, Games, and Prizes!

Aside from the important information that was exchanged and celebrated during the Conference. We also had lots of fun playing lots of different games! Our Communications department orchestrated and created fun interactive games such as “Pick Three” and “Meet Your New Union Representatives”. A $50 Visa Gift card was raffled off and all Stewards took home Union buttons and their own Yeti cups as a thank you and appreciation for their hard work!

Celebrating Our Wonderful Stewards

To conclude the Steward Conference, we took our time to celebrate our Stewards. We all gave a round of applause for their service, their hard work, and their continued perseverance to help the workers. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Gibson’s, chatting and reconnecting after a 4-year hiatus due to COVID. We had drinks and good conversation at the open bar, as well as the monumental desserts that were shared with everyone. 

Thank you to all our Stewards who were able to attend the 2023 Conference! Local 881 is proud to have hosted you and celebrated all your hard work.

Want to be a part of the fun next year? Learn about what it takes to be a Local 881 Steward! Contact your Union Representative to learn more. 

To see more photos of the event, visit our photo gallery.

Tentative Agreement for Osco Members In The Mail!

Voting ballots should be arriving in member mailboxes.

Every eligible Osco member was mailed the document and have the opportunity to consider the Tentative Agreement Offer and then cast a vote. The members alone will decide the outcome. Your Local Union is committed to making sure the voting process is administered in the most efficient, democratic, and equitable manner possible. 

Please review the Tentative Agreement and return your ballot to the union no later than Thursday, Sep 28! 

I heard we are getting…

Rumors can spread like wild fire. Don’t make a decision based on information that may be false or inaccurate. Wait to see the Tentative Agreement and read for yourself. Then cast your vote!

Should you have any questions we continue to be at your service and invite you to contact your Union Representative at 847-294-5064 to discuss any concerns you have.

Recent Merger Announcements

For nearly a year Kroger, the parent company of Mariano’s, has been working toward a merger with Albertsons, the parent company of Jewel-Osco. They have been actively trying to get this deal approved by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other government agencies.

A national merger on this scale is extremely complicated and requires scrutiny to make sure it does not harm the workers and the public. Local 881’s chief concern, from day one, has been to protect the members of Local 881 and their families. Most importantly, if the merger is approved, we want to protect your jobs and have our existing contracts honored.

It is still a waiting game to see whether the FTC will actually approve the merger and the plan to sell stores to C&S. Until then, nothing has been set in stone and the merger may not happen.

In the meantime, Local 881 will continue to actively monitor this situation. If there is a merger, we will continue to insist that any new owner of any sold stores honor the contracts and commit to keeping any stores open and Union.

Please know Local 881’s top priority is to protect YOUR jobs and contracts. Now more than ever, we need to stand together! If you have questions on the merger or any other concern, please call your Union Representative at 847-294-5064. It is Local 881’s privilege to be at your service.