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Building Trades Unions Seek Commitment from Safeway to Build Union in Millbrae

Millbrae City Council delays approval of Safeway's Expansion

The Millbrae City Council delayed approval of Safeway’s plan to expand their Millbrae store April 12. Four council members expressed concerns about the increased number of vehicles and asked for further study of traffic impacts. Representatives from the grocery chain presented their plans and addressed some of the concerns. Council member Gina Papan said that while the hearing on the project that was already approved by the Millbrae Planning Commission in February was unusual, it was the first time the Council would be able to see the full project. “We go through this process to make sure the community gets what it wants,” she said. Papan said the Council was trying to establish a policy to review projects because “we get the feedback from residents.”

Union members packed the Council chambers to urge the City Council to reject Safeway’s expansion project if the company did not make a commitment to a union-built store.

Council members Papan and Marge Colapietro also urged Safeway to commit to using union construction workers on the project. Colapietro, Papan, and Mayor Daniel Quigg had written to Safeway to request that the company “continue its strong commitment to our community by making an investment in our local workforce by hiring local workers to rebuild our market. At present, individuals working in the building and construction trades are contending with a nearly 30 percent unemployment rate and many are struggling to make ends meet. These workers live in our community and would significantly benefit from this construction project which should employ many of these individuals and pay a community standard wage.”

Building trades union members packed the Council chambers to urge the City Council to reject Safeway’s expansion project if the company did not make a commitment to a union-built store. Noting that unemployment among construction workers is more than three times the national average, San Mateo County Building Trades Council Business Manager Bill Nack told the Council that, “This project could help significantly in Millbrae and San Mateo County; unfortunately not for union construction workers making decent wages with health benefits and pension plans living in San Mateo county.

“Unfortunately, I am not here this evening in support of the proposed new Safeway project,” Nack said. “Safeway is not committed to paying workers who will be building the new store the wages and benefits that allow these workers to live in San Mateo County. Safeway will not demand that the contractors who will be given the construction contracts use qualified apprentices so that the next generation of construction workers will be qualified to carry on the tradition of construction of the highest standards.”

San Mateo County Building Trades Council Business Manager Bill Nack.

Nack pointed out that San Mateo County is one of the most expensive areas to live in the United States and asked. “How do we compete with contractors and workers who come from Sacramento County, Los Angeles, Fresno, Yuba County, or from Arizona or Utah?, where the area median income and cost of living is one third to one half of what it is in San Mateo County?” He asked that the City Council not approve Safeway’s project “until Safeway does commit to using only high skilled union workers, or at the very least commit to paying San Mateo county local area standard wages with health care and pension plans for the construction workers who live in San Mateo County and shop in Safeway stores.”

Safeway’s director of construction for Northern California, Sam Lee said that, “We are sympathetic and concerned” and that, “We are not just interested in the lowest bidder.” Lee said he would talk to local contractors and encourage hiring from a local pool of workers, but that, “Quality is important, but it’s a competitive bid.” Councilmember Colapietro asked Lee to meet with Bill Nack and get a list of union contractors and “consider local hiring and paying local standard wages.”

When Lee was asked why union contractors were standard in San Francisco but not in San Mateo County, Lee said that they had used non-union and union companies for San Francisco construction. A letter from San Francisco construction Building Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Mike Theriault cited by Bill Nack in his comments stated that, “Safeway has to my knowledge and memory always performed construction and remdels of its stores in the City and County of San Francisco using only union signatory general contractors and subcontractors.” The vast majority of general contractors and subcontractors on Safeway’s projects in Daly City and Burlingame are non-union.

As part of their presentation, Safeway representatives said that increasing the size of their store by about 44 percent to 59,000 square feet should also result in an increase in sales at the store by the same amount. Tony Rodriquez, Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 Business Representative, said that, “The increased profits will offset the use of prevailing wages.” He urged the Council to consider that, “We have people here who have been out of work for two years.”

Painters and Tapers Local 913 member Tom Linebarger said that, “One third of our members in Millbrae are out of work, some for over two years. Since 2008, it’s been a very rough time and we’ve seen the cost of medical premiums doubled.” Linebarger said by using the lowest bidder, Safeway would take money out of the community and that workers without health care benefits would become a burden to the community—forced to use county hospital emergency rooms.

Plumbers Local 467 Business Agent Mark Burri

Plumbers Local 467 Business Agent Mark Burri pointed out that his union actively recruits young people from local schools to get into union training and apprenticeship programs. “Right now, about half of our apprentices are unemployed,” Burri said. “We want to be able to shop in a store that is built with union labor and supports local workers.”

San Mateo County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler pointed out that Safeway’s workforce is union, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers, and said Safeway’s commitment to quality inside their stores should be reflected in a commitment to using quality union construction workers. “Safeway has had strong labor support, and the labor movement is united and watching to make sure Safeway maintains its commitment to quality and to our community,” she said.

San Mateo County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler

Planning Commissioner Wayne Lee, speaking as a private citizen and not on behalf of the Planning Commission, said that he was disappointed that Safeway had not committed to paying prevailing wages and hiring local construction workers who will spend money in the local economy. “They need to be more community oriented and hire local people,” he said.

Safeway plans to start construction on the Millbrae store next January. Councilmembers Papan, Colapietro, Quigg, and Nadia Holober voted to postpone approving the project, with Councilmember Paul Seto, who was silent throughout the hearing, voting not to delay the approval.


Union members applauded the comments of San Mateo County Building Trades Council Business Manager Bill Nack urging the Millbrae City Council to reject Safeway's expansion project if the company did not make a commitment to a union-built store. Safeway representatives are in the foreground.

- Paul Burton