Dont kiss health care goodbye

Grocery worker supporters geared up to mark Valentine’s Day week with the distribution of 20,000 “Don’t Kiss Healthcare Goodbye” leaflets in Washington, D.C., Metro stations. As the 70,000 Southern California grocery workers dug in for their 16th week of strike or lock out, an action calendar of solidarity actions spanned the country coast to coast.

According to AFL-CIO spokesperson Sarah Massey, there have been rallies, vigils, marches and information hand outs in cities in six major market areas of Safeway Corporation – Philadelphia, Seattle, Northern California, Baltimore/Washington, and Portland, Ore.

On Feb. 5, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson led hundreds of protesters at a Wall Street rally in New York City. A similar action was called for Feb. 11 in San Francisco at the Pacific Stock Exchange.

Despite enormous executive bonuses and profits in recent years, the alliance of grocery chain giants is demanding huge cuts in employee healthcare benefits and a two-tiered pay scale. The workers’ union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, charges that the giant corporations’ proposals will result in the de-funding of health care plans and the elimination of benefits for grocery workers and their families.

“If the companies succeed,” said a union statement, “it could open the floodgates for other employers to do the same – tragically adding more people to the millions of Americans already uninsured.”

Health benefits for workers on the line expired as of Dec. 31 but hundreds of families, hardship cases identified by the locals, are being helped by contributions from unions and individuals, not only from Southern California, but around the world, according to UFCW spokesperson Ellen Anreder. Millions of dollars have been donated both to the UFCW and to the AFL-CIO’s “Hold the Line for Healthcare Fund.” Nevertheless, thousands of families, many headed by single mothers, are now without health care.

Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons have lost a combined $2 billion in sales in their 852 Southern California stores, according to the New York Times. They are now fighting a lawsuit filed by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer charging that their pre-strike revenue sharing agreement violates the federal antitrust law. A federal mediator announced the resumption of talks this week.

The author can be reached at rwood@pww.org