The Retail Clerk's International Union's efforts to organize employes of Woodward & Lothrop is the first step in a drive to unionize Washington's department stores, union officials revealed yesterday.
The AFL-CIO union filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board asking a union representation vote among the more than 6,000 workers in 16 Woodies stores and two warehouses.
The union campaign at woodward & Lothrop is the biggest labor drive ever conducted in the Washington area, said W. Gary Sauter executive assistant to the president of Local 400 of the retail clerks.
The unionizing drive at Woodward & Lothrop, which began in January and is expected to be climaxed by a vote this summer, will be followed by attempts to organize workers in other local non-food stores, sauter said.
A lot of people at Hecht's and Garflinckel's are waiting to see what happens at Woolies," added Sauter, who said the union already has held discussions with employees of those two local chains.
At Woodward & Lothrop, the AFLCIO-affiliated union is seeking to replace the Independent Union of Woodward & Lothrop Employes,which has represented the department store chain's workers since 1940.
Sauter said officials of the local union yesterday gave the NLRB union representation cards signed by more than 3,000 Woodward & Lothrop employes asking for the vote.
Under NLRB rules, 30 percent of the employes of a firm must request a union vote and a majority must vote in favor of representation by the union.
Union officials estimated the election for Woodies' workers could be called within four to six weeks. Employes will have three choices: representation by the AFL-CIO retail Clerks, representation by the independent union, or no union at all.
Natalie Koeling, president of the independent union, yesterday said Local 400 organizers are exaggerating the benefit to employes of switching unions.
"They can't negotiate any better contract than we can," she said. "There's no reason to beileve Woodies is going to give them any more than they'll give us."
The independent union has about 3,200 members according to Koelling, who was elected president last year.
Disputing claims that other retail store workers represented by the AFL-CIO union earn $1 an hour more than Woodward & Lothrop emplouyes. Koelling said it is "ridiculous" to believe Woodies workers could get $1-an-hour raises.
The AFL-CIO union also has made much of provisions in the independent union's charter which do not allow workers to ratify the contract negotiated by their leaders but Koelling said the contract vote is not necessary. The independent union rewrote its constitution over the past three years "and the members voted down" amendments calling for a vote on the contract, she said.
Conceding that the independent union had been "lethargic" in the past, she said attendence at union meetings had doubled in the past year.
Because the dispute is nominally between the two rival unions, Woodward & Lothrop executives are not commenting on the organizing drive.
Retail StoreEmployees Union Local 400 now represents about 17,000 workers in stores in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. It is one of the largest locals of the AFL-CIO retail clerks union, which will become the largest affiliate of the AFL-CIO this summer when it merges with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workers.
Most of the local clerks union members work in supermarkets, including Giant and Safeway. Other Washington area retailers with unionized workers include Korvettes, Memco, Raleighs,Syms and a number of smaller retailers.
The union has lost elections involving workers at Drug Fair and Peoples Drug Stores, and it failed three years ago in an attempt to organize Woodward & Lothrop workers.
At a press conference yesterday announcing the drive at Woodward & Lothrop, union officials said teespassing charges filed against six union organizers by Woodward & Lothrop security guards are being dismissed.
The charges, involving attempts to distribute union materials at the Landmark Shopping Center, are the Landmark Shopping Center, are the first of some two dozen similiar charges to come to trial.
A spolesman for the commonweath's attorney's office in Alexandaria said the state charges will be dismissed Friday because federal labor law preempts jurisdiction over such cases, putting them inthe hads of the NLRB. CAPTION: Picture, Retail Clerks Union Local 400 official W. Gary Sauter (right) confers with Tom Russo, the chief international organizer for the union, at press conference.By Doug Chevalier-The Washington Post