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Grocery Workers Strike for Health Care

By George Iechika McKinney

More than 75,000 grocery workers on strike in southern California are on the front lines of a battle to defend health care and job security. The United Food and Commercial Workers have been on strike or locked out by their employers since Oct. 12, 2003.

Safeway CEO Steve Hurd made cutting medical care his highest priority for 2004 – to increase profits for Wall Street. Hurd has claimed that WalMart’s non-union workforce, which receives few medical benefits, hurts Safeway and he demands that Safeway workers pay more. Albertson’s and Krogers stores quickly joined Safeway in expressing ‘corporate solidarity,’ forcing over 70,000 workers to the picket lines across southern California. Grocery workers wouldn’t join the race to the bottom. They chose to fight.

About two thirds of the strikers are women, many single mothers. About one third are Latino, Asian or African-American.

The strike has received strong support from the public and others in the trade union movement. Union workers all over have supported the strike through rallies, food donations and walking the picket line for months. As we go to press, there are massive mobilizations in California to back the strike.

Supermarket chains are demanding a two-year freeze on current workers’ salaries and lower pay for newly hired workers. They also want employees to pay more for health insurance. Health care has emerged as a key issue in union contracts across the country. California supermarket owners are playing hardball, and the outcome of the health care issue will have national implications.

“I’m fine with paying my fair share for health care coverage,” said striker Angelica Medina, “But they are demanding to reduce our benefits while making us pay more. I’m really upset because they know how hard we work, and that we need to support our families.”

The union is urging people to boycott Safeway-owned stores anywhere in the United States. They include Vons, Safeway, Pavilions, Carrs, Dominick’s, Randalls, Tom Thumb and Genuardi’s.

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