UFCW Local 1167 emerged from a transformative era on Dec. 31, 2014, when Bill Lathrop stepped down as president of the union.
He capped a long career that began as an apprentice Meat Cutter and concluded as one of the most honored and respected coalition builders in the history of Southern California’s Labor Movement.
Lathrop grew up in Bell Gardens, one of seven children born to Joe and Phyllis Lathrop. He served in the Army National Guard and graduated from East Los Angeles College in 1971.
That also was the year Lathrop was hired at a Lucky store in West Covina, launching his career in the supermarket industry.
“I knew a Meat Cutter at the store who informed me about a position as an apprentice Meat Cutter, so I gave it a try,” Lathrop recalled.
The head of the department was Dale Harnack, an executive board member of Meat Cutters Union Local 439.
“Dale was a real trade unionist,” Lathrop said. “He was a fabulous guy to know — a one-of-a-kind union man. He taught me all I know about unionism.”
By 1973, Lathrop was involved in his first strike as a member of Local 439. He served as a picket captain during the five-week labor dispute.
“Things happened on that strike in 1973 that you don’t run into nowadays,” he remembered.
“Off-duty police were hired by the company to pose as security guards. They even pulled guns on us. It was a big learning experience.”
Lathrop “dove into the Labor Movement head-first,” he said. He attended union meetings regularly and became a delegate to the Los Angeles Federation of Labor and the San Bernardino/Riverside Central Labor Council (CLC).
In 1981, Local 439 hired Lathrop as a union representative. Subsequently, he served as secretary-treasurer of the union until 1995, when the Meat Cutters local union merged with the UFCW to form Local 1167.
“The merger to form Local 1167 was one of the smartest things us Meat Cutters ever did,” he said. “This was an excellent organization to work for.”
Lathrop served Local 1167 as a union representative and as director of political and community affairs. In the latter capacity he led the union’s efforts in many political campaigns and educated members about issues affecting working people. In 1995, Lathrop was elected president of the San Bernardino and Riverside Counties CLC — a position he held until his retirement. During his long tenure at the CLC he created and strengthened alliances among labor unions, community groups, members of the clergy and labor-friendly elected leaders.
Lathrop became president of Local 1167 in 2001, succeeding Bill Sauriol. “Bill Sauriol ran an outstanding Local Union all around and it was an honor for me to continue his exceptional programs,” said Lathrop.
In the 14 years that followed, he steered his union and its 18,000 members through countless contract negotiations, organizing campaigns and political initiatives.
In 2003 and 2004, he emerged as one of the key figures in the epic 141-day strike and lockout that affected tens of thousands of supermarket workers throughout Southern California.
In 2008, Lathrop was elected president of the UFCW Western States Council, an organization dedicated to united action for working people and advocacy of pro-worker legislation. Also in 2008, the organization hailed him as its Labor Warrior of the Year.
At the time of his retirement Lathrop said he was leaving the union in good hands.
He added: “We had good times and accomplished a lot of good things over the years, and I’m grateful to my friends and colleagues at UFCW Local 1167 and other labor organizations for making this possible.
“I also want to say I could not have done all of this without the support of my beautiful wife Sheri. She put up with the long hours I had to put in for Local 1167 and the CLC.”
Jim Bird, 87, who retired as president of Meat Cutters Local 439 on Feb. 1, 1994, reflected on his family’s place in the history of meat cutters.
“My grandfather, James Guy Bird, came to Southern California from Missouri in the late 1800s,” he said. “I don’t know what he did for a living in the Midwest, but he was a complete butcher in our area from the start.”
“Working in a 10-foot-square structure on a large marble slab, my grandfather did the entire job, from slaughter to cuts for cooking,” he continued.
“My dad, Guy Shelby Bird, and his father opened and
operated the first refrigerated meat market in Brawley in 1929.”
James S. “Jim” Bird was born in Long Beach. The family moved to Brawley when he was a boy, later moving to Barstow.
His first job in a gas station in 1949 paid $37 per week. As a soldier in the California National Guard he served in the Korean War during the early 1950s.
Back in the United States, he became one of the meat cutters, then called butchers, working at a Safeway in Riverside.
“I was fortunate to work first under the tutelage of my dad – a real expert in the trade,” he said.
In 1954, he was hired by Stater Bros. in Pomona, where he worked for eight years. Moving to Glendora, “I was trained by Charlie Stringfellow, an excellent cutter. We took great pride in our work, which included unloading 20 quarters every day, breaking, boning and cutting. “Those days are long gone,” Bird said.
Bird, then working in the meat department at an independent store at Muscoy in the San Bernardino area, was recruited to join the staff of the local as a business agent in 1966. He was designated chief executive of the local in 1978 when long-time CEO Arnold Hackman retired. Re-elected every time, Bird led the local through the turbulent Reagan-Bush era, 1980-92. During that period, America’s trade unions were battered, and the rights and conditions of the members were under attack, which they still are. Nonetheless, the local emerged from those times intact and endured as a stronghold of workers in the retail and wholesale meat fields in California. Bird recalls the days not that long ago when union members were forced by employers to work “off the clock” and women members were routinely harassed. While abuses in the workplace still exist and frequently dominate the current news, Bird’s administration emphasized enforcement of the rules and dignity for all workers on the job.
“There were three strikes during my tenure on staff – 1973, 1985, 1988,” Bird said. “We never went on strike just for money. There were always more important issues, mostly maintenance of (health) benefits and improved working conditions. “The employers were always trying to take things away and there was a fight to hold on to what had been won over the years.” The “fight” included Jim Bird’s being arrested and jailed three times. “I suppose there was some justification for my being thrown in jail,” he said. “There was the time I dropkicked and shattered a camera taking unflattering pictures during a strike. I didn’t see the cop watching me, so I wound up naked in a cell until I was released after a few hours. “There was also the strike in which there was an accusation of attempted murder that was eventually dropped after a couple of lie detector tests. The murder charge was replaced by an ‘excessive noise plea.’
Bill Sauriol strides into the local’s conference room looking much the same as he did 17 years ago when he retired. There’s a touch of gray in his hair and beard, and a character-revealing wrinkle here and there in his face, but he is much the same well-prepared, rail-thin, intense dynamo he was all those years as president.
The interviewers in the room would not have been surprised if they heard him demand, “Send me in, Coach, and make sure they give me the ball.”
Sauriol immediately established that he is the primary source of information about the history of the local, referring to a sheaf of handwritten notes, photographs and other documents laid out on the table.
He submits a copy of handwritten minutes of a “first meeting” dated May 10, 1937, at Eagles’ Hall.
Item #5 of six before adjournment listed the names of
Farrill, Miller, Storey and Simpson as members of the committee assigned to “submit nominations at the next meeting.”
The notes reveal a Mr. Larkin of the Bakers’ Union, who “explained the Insurance Benefit for members of the A.F. of L.,” and a Mr. Bauer, who “gave a short talk stating the advantages to employees as well as employers when organized.”
Sauriol confirmed that the local’s first official office was in a house in Colton from 1947 to 1957, after which the headquarters was in a building on G Street in Colton until 1977. The local moved to its current state-of-the art building in Bloomington in 1978.
Sauriol said the local still owns five of the 10 acres purchased during the Bill Brooks administration for $35,000.
“We sold the other five acres for $560,000 to stabilize our financial condition,” Sauriol recalled.
“A day-care center was supposed to be built on that property but never was,” he added. “The land remains vacant to this day.”
He said that the names of leaders of the union in its first few years are not known, but Ted Phillips served as secretary-treasurer, then the title of the chief executive, from 1942 to 1962. He was succeeded by Ray Butler, 1962 -1973, followed by Bill Brooks, 1973 -1983, who by that time had the title of president.
Sauriol served as secretary–treasurer from 1981 to 1983, when he assumed the presidency on Bill Brooks’ retirement.
“The membership was 8,700 at that time,” Sauriol said. “It was over 18,000 when I retired.”
A comprehensive description of Sauriol’s career was published in a four-page special section of Desert Edge in June 2001. It can be found on the union’s website, ufcw1167.org.
As he looks back at his administration, he describes several accomplishments of historical impact.
The encroachment of non-union employers that continues throughout California and the United States began snipping away at union market share in the 1980s.
“We were one of the Southern California locals that
established a ‘super fund’ to combat the threat of non-union employers,” Sauriol said. “I think it’s accurate to say that ours was the most aggressive and successful effort at the time.
“By 1996, we had forced the closure of more than a dozen non-union stores.
“Our first big success in 1988 was with two Food 4 Less stores that had opened with an inferior contract with a rival union. As a result of our massive and expensive effort, today there are 41 Food 4 Less stores in our jurisdiction with over 1,500 members.
“Another success: I’m pretty sure that few if any local unions ever went to the assistance of a senior employer
executive the way we did to help keep Jack Brown in control of Stater Bros. in 1986. We actually picketed to support that great man, who was a unique supermarket executive totally committed to the improvement of union employees.
“That June, Jack was reinstated as CEO, president and chairman. His legacy of employee progress continues.”
Two innovative programs — Drug Abuse Resistance
Education working with the San Bernardino Police Department and the union’s own Holiday Assistance Program — were proud additions to the local’s history, he said.
“In 2009, President Bill Lathrop and the Executive Board honored me by naming the top scholarship award in my name,” he continued. “Our financial support of members and their families in their quest for advanced education in
colleges and universities remains a highlight of the local’s commitment to the improvement of our members’ lives.”
Sauriol managed the complicated merger of the local with Meat Cutters Local 439, accomplished on Feb. 1, 1995. The merger united the two largest sectors of supermarket workers in the area.
Of special historical pertinence is Sauriol’s courageous personal struggle to recover from a near-death accident and the tortuous path back to health that revealed his remarkable strength of character and force of will.
Twelve years after his birth in Worcester, Mass., on
"We did all kinds of things to create a feeling of family in the local so that we would be much more than a distant, faceless organization to the members,” said former UFCW Local 1167 President (1973-1983) Bill Brooks.
Among many innovative unifying programs and events, he and the entire staff dressed in costume every Halloween.
“One Halloween, a truck delivery by a non-union carrier was refused entry by Katie McPike, my secretary, in our Rialto office, following my instruction to deal only with union outfits,” Brooks recalled.
“The driver, naturally shocked and upset, demanded to see the president, so Katie brought him into my office.
“There he found the ‘distinguished union leader' — me — in a bright yellow onesie pajama complete with a trap door in the back and I carried a teddy bear and had a pacifier. "
“At first he wouldn’t believe who I was, but I sent him on his way with an invitation to return when the truck company had a union contract.”
His years as president were filled with economic progress for members, but he is most proud of the state-of-the art headquarters he conceived, designed and built in Bloomington in 1978. It is still a unique masterpiece of local union offices. It had become a family project.
“We found the 10-acre property and negotiated a purchase price of $35,000, down a third from the asking price,” Brooks said. “We paid cash. No mortgage.”
After he retired, the local during the administration of Bill Sauriol sold five empty acres of the original ten for $560,000 for a profit of $525,000. The sold acreage remains an empty lot.
“I can’t imagine what the remaining land and the building are worth today, but I’d guess it’s more than we paid,” he said with a wry smile.
“With my wife, Charlotte, and son Steven, we supervised the design and construction, with Charlotte personally doing the interior — wallpaper, paint, desks, chairs, everything.
“The architect created a rose garden at the main entrance that survived until the building was enlarged many years later. He dedicated it to Charlotte for all the work she saved him.”
Brooks is also proud of reviving the local’s communications program.
“Our newspaper and internal communications had been discontinued and we created successor programs that continue to this day, winning awards for excellence and helping to keep our union family informed and united,” he said.
“And, of course, there is the scholarship program for members and their families that we created.
“I don’t know how many people have been helped in their pursuit of higher education or how much money overall has been awarded. I do know that hundreds of our people who might not otherwise have gone to college have been able to do so because of the local’s financial assistance.”
Bill Brooks was born in Hollywood in 1925. His parents moved there from Michigan, where his father, a union member, worked as an upholsterer for the Ford Motor Company. In California his mom and dad owned and operated a tea room in Hollywood.
A Local 1167 member since 1949, Brooks inherited intense unionism from his father.
After his father died when Bill was 14 he moved to Santa Monica with his mother and younger sister. The family’s need for money required Bill to go to work immediately while still a schoolboy.
“As a teenager I went door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions to the popular magazines of the time — Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, Ladies Home Journal. My mother, Marjorie, went to work as a domestic house cleaner for the head of Twentieth Century Fox, Darryl Zanuck.
“My first job in the grocery business was at a store called Wonder Market in Ocean Park in Santa Monica. I rode my bike back and forth to work.
“I started in groceries, moved on to the deli, and then to produce while still a youngster.
“The store was union and I was a member of Santa Monica Retail Clerks Local 1442 at age 16, making $25 a week for 40 hours. When I learned that another employee doing the same job was making $39 a week, I quit after three years and took a withdrawal card from the local.”
During and briefly after World War II, Brooks served in the United States Army’s Corps of Engineers, stationed in Seoul, Korea, as part of the occupation there. He was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant in 1947.
Just 22 years old after leaving the Army, he lived with his mother, who had moved to Palm Springs.
“I got a job setting type for the area newspaper, The Limelight News, where I worked for a year and a half,” he said.
“I was and am a happy guy, so I left that job because the boss had absolutely no sense of humor.
“Right around then my mother and I moved to Riverside, where I got a job at a shady outfit called Country Store — I say shady because they routinely cheated customers. For example, they would cut ears of corn in half and sell them for full price.
“I quit after a year and got a job at the Stater Bros. store in Loma Linda, where I worked in produce for six years. That was 1949 and I immediately rejoined the Retail Clerks at Local 1167. Ted Phillips was secretary-treasurer.
“Cleo and Leo Stater were identical twins who frequently confused people about who was whom. They were ambitious and competent, moving rapidly to build store after store in our rapidly expanding area after the war.
“Pretty soon I was transferred to the new Stater Bros. store in Redlands, as other stores went up in Bloomington, West Riverside, Colton and San Bernardino, though I’m not sure in that order.
“While still working for Stater Bros., in 1958 I think it was, I was recruited by the Retail Clerks International to join the Southern California regional staff. I took a pay cut to accept that job, but it looked like and turned out to be interesting and challenging, as well as a major learning experience.
“President Ray Butler called me one day and asked me to join the staff at Local 1167, which I did, serving as a business agent for 10 years before my election as president.
“There’s a funny story about my quitting the International Union to go to work for the local. The regional director called Ray and told him that Brooks was the last guy they would train to become a local business agent.”
Late in his career, he requested a reporter from the company that assisted him in producing the Desert Edge newspaper to cover a membership meeting. The meeting was sparsely attended and the reporter asked Brooks why so few members were participating.
“When things are going as well for the members as they have been the last few years, they don’t come,” he said. “If things go sour, I expect you won’t find a seat in the meeting hall. Right now the hall has been pretty empty at meetings for years.”
Bill Brooks, now retired for 35 years, celebrated 65 years of marriage in July 2018. He is still spry, articulate and a passionate unionist. He lives in Carlsbad with wife, Charlotte, and his son Steve.