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History

Our Proud Local 881 History Local 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has existed in its present form only since the early 1980s, but the labor groups that compose our local's history paint a picture of activism, progress and concern that stretches back to the Great Depression.

When the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935, it established the right of workers to organize in Unions of their own choice and to bargain collectively with employers.

By 1939, self-service supermarkets with an average of five to seven employees began opening all over. As self-service grew more acceptable and popular, the staff of some food stores rose to as many as 25, with full-timers supplemented by part-time help. The need for collective bargaining and representation soon became apparent, and Unions assumed the role of a stabilizing force in the food industry.

Another change came in 1947 when the Taft-Hartley Act made both Unions and management accountable to the federal government. As a result, that very same year, Local 881 established itself as an independent Labor Union called the Jewel Food Store Employees Union (JFSEU) and was certified in 1947. Challenging Unions charged that the JFSEU was company-controlled due to the name. Although the allegations were false, the JFSEU was renamed the United Retail Workers Union (URW). The membership totals of the Union increased by 4,000 in 1959. Later, the United Retail Workers organized Eisner Food Stores in Central Illinois, creating what was then known as Local 595 of the URW. The staff at this time was still only 12 people strong.

Over time, the URW began having a greater impact. The mid-1960s brought more major contracts and the URW was beginning to be sought out above other Unions by store employees for representation. Though the '60s were stable years for the Union, the URW continued to strive to achieve more for its members. As the 1970s approached, membership grew to 6,000, staff was expanded and a non-foods division was created. It was August of 1981 when the URW affiliated with the UFCW International to become Local 881. The numbers 8-8-1 represent the URW's official charter date (August of '81) as a UFCW Local Union.

The Insurance Workers International Union merged with the UFCW in the mid-1980s and various insurance locals subsequently merged into Local 881.

In 1983, Ronald E. Powell became President of Local 881. Hired by the Union in 1961 as a Union Representative (after having been a member himself and an employee of Jewel), Ron rose to become Supervisor of the Field Staff in 1968, Vice President/Director of Field Operations in 1973, and later served as Secretary-Treasurer. Today, in addition to leading Local 881, Ron is also a Vice President on the UFCW International Executive Board, and a Vice President of the Illinois State AFL-CIO.

In 1986, members of Springfield Local 1696 voted to merge into Local 881, as did Wood River Local 35 and Collinsville Local 219 in 1987. On November 1, 1989, Local 881 became the largest UFCW Local Union in Illinois, in the United States and in our International Union when Chicago's UFCW Local 1550 merged into Local 881.

Today, over 34,000 Local 881 members work and/or reside throughout Northern Illinois (including the metropolitan and suburban Chicago area), Northwest Indiana, Central and Southern Illinois, and some parts of Missouri and Kentucky. Local 881 represents members employed by a wide variety of grocery, retail, service and professional areas.