Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Oct. 30, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper
CAN THEY SPLIT THE BOSSES?
GROCERY WORKERS STRIKE-LOCKOUT ENTERS THIRD WEEK
By John Parker
THE STRIKE AND LOCKOUT AT Los Angeles supermarket chains entered the
third week Oct. 26 with cracks showing in the anti-worker alliance of
the three supermarket chains: Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons/Pavilion,
which is owned by Safeway.
A United Food and Commercial Workers union official who prefers to
remain anonymous told Workers World that Albertsons and Ralphs
management were considering breaking from Safeway's CEO Steven Burd and
UFCW workers can take credit for weakening management unity with their
militancy. Also, community support is still strong against the big three
grocery chains of Ralphs, owned by Kroger, Albertsons and Vons/Pavilion.
The community's boycott is working. Cash registers are silent as
shoppers go elsewhere.
Part of the engine for building this militancy and support has been the
frequent rallies at local stores. At a Vons store in the Echo Park area
of Los Angles, UFCW Local 770 organized such an event for the striking
workers Oct. 26.
The local has already organized mass rallies with big-name celebrities
and labor officials. Other unions supporting the rallies have included
the Teamsters, Service Employees, Television and Radio Actors, and Hotel
and Restaurant Employees.
Part of the local's strategy to keep up the spirits of striking and
locked-out workers is to organize more frequent and smaller rallies of
support at each store, especially those located in more remote areas. At
the Oct. 26 rally the tactic worked well. Workers not only got the
chance to show their militancy through chants but also marched by the
store's entrance, where they blocked entry.
After the march, officials from the United Transportation Union,
representing striking Metropolitan Transit Authority workers, expressed
their solidarity, focusing on the demand for decent health care for
workers. They were followed by a teacher representing the United
Teachers of Los Angeles. He said the school he taught at was around the
corner, and that all the teachers at that school had been instructed to
not patronize this Vons.
HEALTH CARE IS KEY ISSUE
Health care is one of the key issues of the strike and lockout affecting
71,000 UFCW workers in Southern California. The big three food chains
are trying to cut $1 billion in health-care benefits from UFCW workers.
After Safeway's proposal for drastic cuts, over 95 percent of UFCW
workers voted to strike. When this happened, Ralphs and Albertsons
locked out their UFCW workers without giving legal notice.
Miguel Arrow lives not far from this store. He was observing the rally.
Asked what he thought, he said: "We can't let these big corporations get
away with murder by denying basic health care to workers. If they take
it away from these people, who's to stop my boss from making eyes at my
health-care benefits. I'm with them."
Former customers of the big three have shown unprecedented support for
the strike, which demonstrates this struggle's universal nature. Not
only health care, but workers' basic right to have a union, is at issue.
Ralphs has proposed opening up new stores that will be non-union.
The big three are proposing a two-tier wage system that would
significantly lower starting wages for new employees. This would provide
great incentive to eliminate workers with more seniority and thereby
lower labor costs.
And workers near retirement would face the loss of hundreds of dollars
per month in lost medical benefits.
In recent newspaper ads, the corporate executives of Vons, Alberstons
and Ralphs falsely stated that the workers are overpaid. In reality, the
average worker makes $312 per week. Many employees earn less than $10
Lying and breaking the law seem par for the course for these supermarket
chains. In early October KFMB-TV, channel 8, reported on a videotape
taken at a Ralphs in Chula Vista. The video shows how this store was
circumventing truckers' refusal to cross picket lines.
Channel 8 reported that on the videotape, scabs could clearly be seen
unloading creates of milk from a U-Haul truck without refrigeration.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, "Milk
must be handled in such a way that protects against temperatures above
The store is currently under investigation. As it gets pretty hot here
in Southern California, especially in a U-Haul cab, 45 degrees would be
hard to maintain.
This shows the stores' cavalier attitude toward both the workers who
produce their profits and the health of their own consumers. Many of
these same wage-and-benefit cuts against the UFCW would help drive down
wages and benefits for all workers, including those who shop at their
However, instead of the government seriously going after these
violations, it chooses to harass and intimidate workers with non-legal
immigrant status. This took place in raids Oct. 23 in Wal-Mart stores,
when federal authorities arrested 250 workers, mostly janitors. Some
feel that this may have been an attempt by the government to eliminate
workers who might be most sympathetic toward a union drive at these
The move to unionize Wal-Mart is picking up steam. It has become a focus
in this strike/lockout. Many workers cheered Jesse Jackson at a Local
770 rally at a Ralphs in South Central Los Angeles when he said,
SOLIDARITY THREATENS GREEDY THREE
Exploiting bitter rivalries among Ralphs, Albertsons, and Vons (Safeway)
could be an effective tactic. In targeting Safeway, the UFCW viewed
Safeway management as the architect of a non-negotiating hard line that
forced the union to strike. Safeway would be particularly vulnerable if
the labor movement as a whole could take on the giant supermarket chain.
Safeway owns 330 stores in central and southern California. It is one of
North America's biggest supermarket food retailers, with a total of
1,800 stores and over 172,000 workers. Safeway operates in the Western,
Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic regions, and western Canada. It operates
under different names: the Vons/Pavilion companies in southern and
central California, Dominicks Finer Foods in Chicago, Carr-Gottstein
Food in Alaska, Genuardi's Family Market in the eastern United States,
and Randall's Food Markets in Texas.
Organizing and spreading the resistance could bring this Wall Street
food-chain giant to its knees. Here lies a formula for success that
would bring economic and social justice to 71,000 UFCW workers who are
waging a heroic struggle. In unity there is strength.
© Copyright Workers World Service