Food Workers Extend Strike Actions in Defense of Health Benefits

January 13, 2004

Seventy thousand (70,000) supermarket workers in 860 stores across southern California are extending their struggle and initiating new actions to defend their health care benefits and wages.

The workers have been on strike or lockout for three months. Their struggle is gaining support from workers across the country.

In Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities, thousands of workers from other sectors have joined rallies organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Teamster truck drivers and warehouse workers are honoring the UFCW picket lines at supermarket distribution centers. In December the UFCW launched a nationwide campaign of informational picketing at Safeway-owned food stores in many cities. Plans have been drawn up to force a complete shutdown on targeted stores in the southern California area.

This ongoing struggle dates back to mid-October when workers at the Safeway-owned Vons and Pavillon grocery chains, went on strike, rejecting a master contract offered by several regional companies. The new contract would have slashed workers' health insurance by 50% to 75% and dramatically cut wages for new hires. The next day, the Kroger-owned chains of Ralphs groceries and Albertsons markets, also parties to the master contract with the UFCW, illegally locked out their workers.

The proposed cuts would both gut workers' health benefits while making them unaffordable for most supermarket workers who earn between $12-$14/hour. The new insurance package would eliminate dental care, vision, well-baby care and preventive office visits while forcing workers to pay as much as $10,000 on a $20,000 hospital bill.

The UFCW workers need the support of workers everywhere.

For one thing, the supermarket capitalists are working together in their attempt to practically eliminate health insurance for their workers. Trying to emulate the example of Wal-mart, which provides virtually no insurance to its nonunionized workforce, a group of capitalists led by Safeway concluded a mutual-aid pact. By creating a special revenue-sharing fund, the companies aim at reducing the effects of the strike and as a result, the Albertsons and Kroger's chains even locked out their workers.

Not only in southern California but all across the country, workers are confronting attempts by the capitalists to drastically cut health insurance. A fundamental change is taking place. Every year 2 million workers are losing health coverage while millions more are paying more while getting less and less care.

Since we can see that the capitalists are sticking together as a class to force a general cut in workers' health insurance and wages, shouldn't the workers stick together and come out on a ever-broader basis in the struggle to defend our health benefits and wages?