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Grocery Workers Struggle Despite L.A. Union Victory
Posted on Oct 4, 2011
Under the health care insurance plan, workers will continue to pay for their own prescription costs, co-pays, deductibles and other outside expenses, which can run up to a maximum of $11,000 per year, according to the union. Grocery companies estimate that figure closer to $8,000.
That amount may prove to be a burden for most workers, whose salaries average between $20,000 and $25,000 a year.
Although some employees would have liked to hold out for a better deal, union officials said that the threat of specialty stores like Trader Joe’s and major chains such as Wal-Mart and Target taking control of the grocery market compelled both sides to sign a deal.
Newspapers throughout the nation have billed the contract a “victory,” because the workers settled on an agreement with the grocery chains, instead of resorting to a strike.
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The Next Negotiations
How can the union help ensure a better contract the next time around?
For starters, the UFCW must take its fights to the national stage.
With supermarkets operating in globalized food markets, it was a mistake to limit the contract fights to the Southland. The UFCW should have tried to link up with Northern California grocery workers, whose contracts were due to expire in October. Ideally, the grocery campaign would spread to other states from there.
And while the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor did lend a helping hand to the UFCW by providing strike funds for workers and participating in events, more visible backing from the County Fed’s 800,000 union members would have galvanized widespread and sustained support for grocery employees.
But most important, the grocery employees should have never allowed the union to settle on a contract that maintains low wages and benefits, just for the sake of avoiding a work stoppage.
In the end, only militant, unified and worker-led strikes—and not halfhearted negotiations between union officials and supermarket chain executives—will lead to real change in the workplace for grocery employees.
“They need to go out to the rest of the labor movement and do whatever is needed to actually win. And that’s probably going to mean an industrywide strike,” said Muffy Sunde, a longtime community activist and member of the Communications Workers of America union. “That would set a new tone and that’s something the workers in this country would really appreciate.”
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