US union demands recognition from Tesco, and seeks help from Obama

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One of America's biggest trade unions accused Tesco yesterday of refusing to recognise its United States workers' rights and called on the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, to endorse its campaign against the retailer.

United Food & Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) staged a press conference in London claiming it had been forced to come to the UK because representatives of Tesco's Fresh & Easy convenience store operation in the US have declined to recognise the union or enter into any dialogue with it over the past two years.

Mr Obama wrote to Fresh & Easy's chief executive, Tim Mason, in November, asking him to talk to community organisations in Los Angeles about union recognition. UFCW's campaigns director, Emily Stewart, said: "We are absolutely continuing a dialogue with Mr Obama, and we feel he supports what we are trying to do." She added: "Tesco has a great reputation for employment rights and corporate responsibility in the UK, but this is sullied by its behaviour in the US."

The union has not made any specific demands, but says it wants the same constructive partnership with Tesco that the retailer has in the UK with the shop workers' union Usdaw.

Yesterday, UFCW unveiled its 46-page report, The Two Faces of Tesco. Joining Ms Stewart at the campaign launch was the Labout MP Jon Cruddas, who said: "We are asking for nothing more than Tesco already does here."

A Tesco spokesperson said: "The UFCW do not reflect the views of Fresh & Easy staff who are overwhelmingly in favour of the pay and benefits they receive... we strongly believe that union membership is a matter of individual choice and if our people want to join a union then they can and will. All the signs so far are that there is little interest in doing so."