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Interfaith Good Friday Services in Bay Area Seen as Union Tactic

PINOLE, Calif. - Officials at Safeway Inc. on Friday accused union leaders of using Good Friday services to play politics with its employees, according to a report in The Contra Costa Times.

In a letter to Bay Area grocery union leaders, Safeway said the interfaith services were thinly disguised labor rallies that did not meet the "scope and spirit" of a contract provision which allows grocery workers to take off three hours with pay on Good Friday for religious worship.

"It was not intended to provide a free day off or to disrupt store operations," wrote Safeway's group v.p. for labor relations Rich Cox, objecting to union representatives passing out flyers and encouraging workers to attend the services, which took place in seven cities from San Rafael to Santa Cruz on Friday.

"One flyer we have seen quotes from the Holy Qur'an and the Buddha, neither of which, to our knowledge, involve any bona fide Good Friday service," he wrote. "Merely by adding the label 'prayer service' on an activity does not make it a bona fide Good Friday religious service."

Cox said union leaders were violating a clause in the labor contract that bars unions from any activity that would cause economic damage to Safeway, according to the report.

Safeway spokesman Brian Dowling told the newspaper that the company didn't see any mass exodus of employees on Friday. The company also said historically very few employees have taken time off for Good Friday services.

Bay Area religious leaders reacted strongly to Safeway's objections, saying they organized the services the week of Passover and Good Friday to inspire people of all faiths to work for a "just society."

"Safeway cannot tell us what is a traditional worship service," said the Rev. Jim Lawson, who helped lead a pray-in near the Alamo home of Safeway c.e.o. Steve Burd in January during the five-month grocery strike in Southern California.
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