Nemenz supporters turn tables on pickets

By Jeanne Starmack


The pickets are now the picketed by friends, family of IGA workers; cops have made a visit

STRUTHERS — A handful of pickets were standing on the corner in front of the Nemenz IGA Friday when a police officer walked up.

The police had a complaint from store owner Henry Nemenz that the pickets, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 880, were harassing shoppers. It had to stop, he said.

When the officer mentioned complaints about the pickets taking pictures with their cell phones of store customers, one of them took issue.

What about that other group, on the other side of the parking lot, she wanted to know. When members of that group cross over, set up their tripod and get in the pickets’ faces, just to harass them. What could be done about that?

If there are more incidents like that, the officer said, let the police know. Then he left.

Across the parking lot from the four pickets, there was just an empty space. It was 3:15 in the afternoon, and the other group was usually there by then, said the pickets, who did not want to give their names.

They come with their signs — “Shop Nemenz,” “They should go home,” and “Pickets should get real jobs.”

“They invade our space,” said Local 880’s line leader, who would identify herself only as Tammy.

“They’ll come over and get in front of us,” said another.

Yes, the pickets have become the picketed.

Local 880’s informational picket line has been outside the IGA for about two years, with signs urging people to shop elsewhere because it is a nonunion store. There are only as many as four people on the line, the pickets said, and they denied they harass shoppers.

The group about 30 feet away on the other side of the parking lot started its line Aug. 5, said organizer Bryan Cramer.

It’s made up of about 20 people — friends and friends of friends who live in Struthers and shop at the IGA, and they finally decided enough is enough, he said.

There are usually about seven people on their line, Cramer said — they fit it in around their job schedules.

When Cramer and two other pickets finally did arrive Friday for their 3 to 6 p.m. daily shift, they explained why they decided to step in and defend the store. Two of them said they have relatives working in the store and in Nemenz’ corporate office.

Harry Meyer said his mother works in the produce shop and his aunt works in the corporation’s administration.

Ron Miller said his mother, Diane, works in the bakery.

None of the employees, they said, wants the pickets there — an assertion Diane Miller echoed.

“We’re very unhappy that the pickets are there,” she said in a telephone interview. “We all want them to go.”

Tammy of Local 880 said the union could not reveal whether any store employees had asked them to picket.

“It’s a privacy issue,” she said. She referred other questions to a union leader who could not be reached to comment.

Employees come out every day, said Meyer, and give people on his line drinks and food. “They tell us how much they enjoy us doing this for them,” he said.

Meyer said he is not anti-union, but that unionizing should be strictly up to workers at the store.

“They are hurting business and the economy when there is no need to,” he said.

“They just want a foothold in another store, and the person at the top will benefit,” he continued.

Local 880 pickets say they are there to level the playing field for grocery store workers. “Don’t you think everybody should have equal amounts of pay and health benefits?” Tammy asked.

No surprise, the two groups have clashed, though there have been no physical altercations.

Cramer said he does take his tripod and camera to the other side of the lot, but only after he sees their cameras come out.

He said an unidentified man shows up from time to time, gets out of a car and yells at them. The man has said vulgar things to his wife, who also pickets, Cramer said. He filed a police report about the man Thursday.

Cramer said he doesn’t know if his group will have the staying power of the union. He wouldn’t predict how long they’d be there.

They are getting a surprising amount of support from people driving by, he said, even in this strong pro-union area.

“Over 600 beeps (Thursday),” he said, noting it was the first day they decided to keep a count.

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