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Good Timing for a Grocery Strike? UPDATE

Sunday, August 21, 2011
posted by B-Daddy

Yesterday’s U-T headline announced that San Diego County’s unemployment rate had increased to 10.5% during the “summer of recovery.”

Unemployment in San Diego County ticked up in July to 10.5 percent, up from a revised 10.4 percent in June, reaching a high not seen for nearly a year, according to data released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I read that local grocery workers had voted to go on strike against Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs. One would think that the supermarkets will have no problem getting replacement workers.

More than 90 percent voted to reject the supermarkets’ offer, which could affect scores of stores in San Diego County and across Southern California. The vote was open to more than 62,000 workers across Southern California, but union officials did not reveal the exact turnout, only saying it was a “record high.”

I presume the key issue is the desire on the part of the grocers to have their employees pay more for their health insurance. Union President Mickey Kasparian, from the same article:

Under the grocery chain’s proposal, some workers would go from having no paycheck deductions to having an average of $92 per month deducted for health insurance, although it would vary depending on family size and other factors, Kasparian said.

Is this the result of the passage of Obamacare? I don’t have hard evidence to prove that, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Businesses are facing rising health care costs since the passage of the bill that we needed to pass to see what was in it. Everything I have read about the negotiations for the grocery workers lead me to believe that health care costs are the key sticking point. Costs are going up and neither side wants to pay for them.

Meanwhile, the stores are getting ready for a strike, some are putting up signs asking for applications for replacement workers. Since my youngest son has been having trouble finding work, he took the opportunity to go to one of the local stores to fill out such an application. He said it was a difficult endeavor, because he didn’t want to ask current employees how to apply to be a replacement worker. Instead, he made his way to the manager’s office to fill out an application there. Even though there were media reports of signage asking for replacement workers, this Vons in Clairemont had no such signs. The manager gave out a standard employment application form, no different than under non-strike conditions. Perhaps they are hoping for an 11th hour settlement and don’t want to unnecessarily upset current employees.

I lived through the grocery strike eight years ago (2003-2004), and remember the unions not doing very well when the results were in. From the lib.com website.

59,000 UFCW members voted on the three-year contract over the weekend of February 28-29. By any standard, the settlement must be considered an important employer victory. While the supermarkets did lose $2.5 billion in income during the strike, they established a precedent for many pending contracts around the country, and not merely for supermarkets. Wall Street greeted the settlement, and Safeway stock prices remained firm throughout the strike.

The new contract provided for a two-tier system. Current employees will receive no pay increase for the first two years of the contract, but will receive a ratification bonus. In the third year, they will begin making monthly payments for the family health plan. New employees will have lower wages and will receive only limited health coverage. The two-tier contract will thus open the way for pushing older employees out the door. Finally, the contract allowed the supermarkets to fire up to 630 UFCW members for “misconduct” on the picket lines within 36 hours of ratification.

I personally crossed the picket line and was interviewed on local TV about why I did so. The answer was simple, we needed groceries for a party and didn’t feel excessive sympathy for the worker’s position. At the time, Walmart was starting to move into the grocery business and the big grocery chains needed to contain costs in order to compete. I think the problem for the grocery store workers is that it doesn’t appear that high levels of education or training are necessary to perform their work. As a result, they will constantly be under competitive pressure. This is not meant as disparagement, I am on friendly terms with many unionized grocery workers and they treat me very well. They work in a field where economists would say there are low barriers to entry into that workforce, unlike health care, for instance. Ultimately, the price I pay for my groceries is a good part of the consideration of where I decide to shop. Regardless of their helpfulness, prices that are too high will send me elsewhere.

I sincerely hope the strike ends soon, but I don’t see how the workers are in any better position to win concessions than they were eight years ago. Further, I wonder how they will explain to their unemployed neighbors that they went on strike because their health care costs went up. Isn’t that true for almost everyone?

Cross posted to The Liberator Today.

UPDATE

Apparently, Verizon workers are returning to work without a contract, although negotiations will continue. The striking Verizon workers are in the land line portion of the business, which is under great strain because of the shift to wireless. This makes their situation similar to the grocery workers, being in an industry with increasing competitive pressure. That they felt it necessary to return to work is not a good omen for our local UCFW folks. Health care costs were also a big part of this strike as well. Seems Obamacare isn’t a good deal for private sector unions.

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13 Responses to “Good Timing for a Grocery Strike? UPDATE”

  1. According to the unions, it’s bad to cross a picket line. But if you shop at a non-union supermarket or grocery store, there is no picket line. So which is worse: Crossing a picket line, or getting your groceries at a non-union place such as Walmart?

  2. Thor's Assistant Thor's Assistant says:

    Mr. Fikes poses quite a dilemma.

  3. Faith says:

    I crossed the picket line last time and didn’t think twice about it. These unionized workers will never recoup the wages they lose while on strike. However, I’m not sure the labor union bosses are fools.

    I used to work at a grocery store decades ago, before scanners when you had to know the price of every item. I know from personal experience, no one is being exploited but nothing these employees do is skilled or hazardous or worthy of union representation. The only exception is the meat cutters, but so few grocery stores have butchers anymore it’s hardly worth mentioning. Most duties performed in grocery stores could be performed by anyone. Even check-out stands are becoming self-serve.

    Some jobs in life are just not the stuff careers are made out of. The duties performed in grocery stores are menial tasks, which I view as a kind of temporary job until you find something better. If the unionized workers at Vons, Albertsons, Ralphs etc. don’t like their pay and benefits, do what any reasonable person would do – go find a better job or invest in your future with better education and marketable skills.

  4. john birch says:

    No dilemma…What could be better than a food fight?…A food riot…However according to Rueben Navaretski,now blobbing for CNN,Texans are calling out the Perry boys and are giving away free seed and ammo…

    I found foos fights well worth hours of after school detention..and ny desert garden is into produce heaven……Maybe Dannon can run on an agrarian platform…

  5. Aynd Rand says:

    During a strike, they want you to shop for groceries at Rite Aid or CVS since they are union. I’m sure they have a lovely selection of fruits and vegetables. The butcher department though needs work at these pharmacies.

  6. I use union grocery stores less and less — kind of glorified 7-11′s with somewhat lower prices and better selection. Costco is my main staple. If the Poway Wal-Mart superstore is built, I’ll be pretty much done with the union stores. Trader Joe’s seems to get more and more business from my wife.

    But come a strike and I’ll be shopping at my two local Von’s stores with great regularity. I encourage others to do the same — at least until the strike is over (and the prices rise even further).

    I read somewhere that, compared to the last grocery store strike, this time the struck labor union stores in Southern California will face 550 more nonunion store competitors.

    It’s likely that this is not going to end well for Von’s, Ralph’s, or Albertson’s. The chains caved too much to the unions last time — now they will harvest the fruit of their labors. Reap the whirlwind, as it were.

  7. Faith says:

    My previous comments were unnecessarily edited not for style or grammar, but content. It’s not often I share my honest opinions, but if you want my participation in the future, I respectfully request you publish what I submit as I submit it.
    __________

    From Admin: We rarely edit comments for anything but spelling and grammar. However, speaking of unnecessary, the prior comment was unnecessarily disparaging of union workers, which added nothing to the point made. It was our judgment call that it used “name calling” for no reason. In most cases, we would simply revoke such a comment, but the overall point was legit. We changed the point in no way whatsoever by removing the inflammatory language. If the commenter disagrees, we would be happy to remove the comment completely.

    If commenters find it impossible to make a point without the use of insults, they are free to go elsewhere.

  8. Trader Joe’s is a wonder. My route home from work passes the Escondido TJ’s, so I’m frequently prowling the aisles in search of goods both exotic and mundane.

    TJ’s Manchego cheese . . . ¡muy sabroso!

  9. Jefferson says:

    Crossing a picket line is much worse than shopping nonunion. Respecting workers who have the cojones to stand up for their own position in the labor market is much more important than shopping somewhere with employees who aren’t putting their own skin in the game. If a man has the dignity to risk losing work and pay in order to better his life, you’ve got to respect that.

  10. Jefferson,
    Thank you for the explanation.

  11. Aynd Rand says:

    Jefferson. I view picket crossing as an overt expression of my beliefs and opinions.

    I respect their right to strike, I hope they’ll respect my right to cross the line and work/shop.

  12. Dave says:

    “…the prior comment was unnecessarily disparaging of union workers…)

    So in other words, if someone criticizes the criminals in organized labor, you feel a need to censor it. I will take your advice and go elswhere. Maybe UFCW Mickey “The Batman” is paying you off or something.
    _____

    From Admin: “Dave”– You really don’t get the difference between organized labor and union workers? Many union workers are conservative; many don’t support their own union leadership but don’t have the clout to change the situation; many don’t have the luxury of quitting a job, simply because they don’t like being part of a union; some have been threatened for opting out. We have at least one union member writing for Rostra — a conservative who has been at odds with his union leadership. To characterize all union members as “fools” is a blatant mischaracterization, which is why the comment was edited. It may not, however, be so off the mark for you. Yes, we were paid off by big labor to say that. Now pound sand.

  13. TIM says:

    I FEEL LITTLE SYMPATHY FOR THE WORKERS….BUSINESS IS BUSINESS…YOU HAVE A VERY WEAK UNION, U WILL GET LITTLE SUPPORT FROM THE TEAMSTERS AND IM GOING TO BE A SCAB AND MAKE JOURNEYMAN WAGES WHILE YOU WALK THE PICKET LINES IN THE HEAT.

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