Skip to comments.Grocery Union Threatens Pickets Across U.S., Canada
Posted on 12/17/2003 11:33:14 AM PST by CounterCounterCulture
By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Union leaders on Tuesday called for pickets of Safeway stores across North America in support of 70,000 Southern California grocery workers who have been out of work for two months in a contract dispute with Safeway and two other leading chains.
Over the next few weeks, the United Food and Commercial Workers union said it would ask consumers not to shop at Safeway stores. Protests could also broaden to include acts of civil disobedience by supporting religious groups, a union spokesman said after a rally in Los Angeles.
Talks between the UFCW, which represents some 1.4 million workers, and Safeway Inc., Albertsons Inc. and Kroger Co. are set to resume on Friday under federal mediation.
Both sides remain far apart on the key issue of how much the grocery chains should pay for employee health insurance coverage under a new contract. The union has singled out Safeway for taking the toughest line in negotiations.
The labor dispute has been widely watched both as a sign of the wider debate on U.S. employee health care coverage and for its potential to cut operating costs for the grocery chains, something they say they need to compete with cut-rate operators like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
"We are going to target Safeway operations in the U.S. and Canada -- we are going to ask workers, consumers and communities to 'shop-out' and shut down Safeway's profits," Doug Dority, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, said at a news conference.
"We want to empty the stores as well as the cash drawers. Safeway only understands money, so we will take action to cut them off from the source of their money -- workers, consumers and communities," he said.
Labor leaders from across the country gathered on Tuesday to discuss the strike as thousands of strikers and supporters staged a march through the streets of Century City and Beverly Hills.
Brian Dowling, a spokesman for Safeway, dismissed the threatened union action.
"This is nothing new. They've been calling for a version of this for a long time," noting that the union had recently picketed in Washington, D.C. and northern California with minimal impact.
"It's an old tactic and it won't impact what's going on in Southern California. The irony is we're going to the bargaining table on Friday and they're calling for a boycott," he said.
TWO-MONTH OLD DISPUTE
The strike began on Oct. 11, when workers staged a walkout at Safeway's Vons and Pavilions stores. The next day, Albertsons and Ralphs, a unit of Kroger, which bargain jointly with Safeway, locked out their unionized employees.
Talks have hit an impasse even though the financial pain on both sides has mounted.
Kroger, for example, posted third-quarter earnings that were half of what Wall Street had expected after the labor dispute drove shoppers away from its stores.
Striking workers, meanwhile, have been collecting strike pay of only about $200 a week from the UFCW, which has not said how much the strike has cost.
"We will not allow the elimination of health care benefits. We will not allow workers to be starved into giving up health care for their families," Dority said on Tuesday.
Others who spoke at the press conference included John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO umbrella union body; Melissa Gilbert, president of the Screen Actors Guild; and John Connelly, president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Tuesday's gathering also served as a fundraiser, with various union leaders from around the country and Canada pledging money to help the striking workers.
"The UFCW International Union already has a financial package to fund the basic strike benefit well into the new year," said Dority, adding that "millions of dollars are being poured into Southern California to win this fight."
LOS ANGELES - Union leaders plan to urge members to boycott North American stores owned by Safeway Inc. in support of 70,000 grocery clerks who've been on strike for two months in Southern California.
"We want to empty those stores," said Doug Dority, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, on Tuesday. "We want to make sure these cash registers are empty."
Safeway, Albertsons Inc. and Kroger Co. are locked in the dispute with their Southern California workers over the cost of health care coverage and other issues.
Union leaders have said they consider Safeway the leader of the management side.
In some cases, the UFCW also planned to extend picket lines to Safeway stores outside the region in an attempt to keep employees from reporting to work, said UFCW national spokesman Greg Denier.
He declined to say when the boycott campaign would begin.
Safeway officials said they didn't expect the tactic to influence the dispute.
The unions' strategy was announced after 500 leaders and workers met for two hours behind closed doors at a hotel and then marched with thousands of other workers to a supermarket in Beverly Hills.
Clerks went on strike or were locked out Oct. 11 at nearly 860 Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores from San Diego to San Luis Obispo. Safeway owns the Vons and Pavilion chains.
Negotiations were scheduled to resume Friday for the first time in 10 days.
The UFCW said the chains had shaved $1.08 an hour off their proposed contribution to health care premiums.
The grocery companies countered they were no longer willing to absorb all the costs involved in maintaining health care benefits, saying they face pressure from Wal-Mart, Costco and other supermarket operators that don't pay as much toward employee benefits.
The pickets are being honored out here in Ontario (suburbia), out here there are already plenty of alternatives to Albertsons, Vons, and Ralphs. Combined with the teamsters sympathy strikes at distribution warehoueses and there is NO POINT in crossing the picket lines. The stores are largely empty of merchandise anyhow, and their bakeries, pharmacies, delli's are all closed (which is the main reason to go to a store like Alebertson's anyhow).
A pox on both their houses.
Running out of microwave popcorn, and dogfood is what I would call a BIGTIME shortage. And this is at FOOD 4 LESS which is only affected by the Teamsters sympathy strike NOT by picketers.
"Religious groups" and unions. What a combinatiom. If anyone needed any more evidence that the WCC is the Enemy, this should convince them.
Up theirs. THIS consumer will shop wherever she darned well PLEASES, and is NOW more likely to stop at stores that ARE being picketed.
Unions have been ruining this country since the '70's. We NEED a national right to work law.
It appears as though half-pint has developed into a half-wit.
Grey signed legislation forcing companies to pay health benefits to gay partners, didn't he? Companies can't afford it.
These idiots - the true sheeple of this country - have NO clue why we cross the picket lines. BTW I find it so much nicer shopping in an uncrowed store with people who look happy to be working rather than before when again THEIR social schedule talking to their co-workers while I was in line. I just hope that the stores (in this issue) hold out forever. I do not want these ingrates back in my face ever again.
California is already a "right to work" state. You can by terminated at any time for any reason. Likewise you can quit at anytime for any reason. Furthermore, you can't be bound by non-competition clauses.
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