Thursday, May 19, 2011

Labor Pains: Grocery Workers in Southern California Hold Out for Free Health Care

The LA Times reports that negotiations between the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons grocery chains in southern California are not going well. At issue? Health care coverage for the 62,000 Southland grocery workers the UFCW represents. The grocers have described their proposal as "reasonable" and as "an excellent healthcare plan that allows [the workers] to receive comprehensive coverage for themselves and their families." The unions have described the plan as "gutting."

What do we want? Better health benefits than most Americans, at no cost! When do we want it? Now!
Although the retailers haven't offered details of the proposal to the media, their press release states that workers would be covered for as little as $9 a week, and would receive coverage for working as few as 16 hours a week. The union response, unfortunately, offers even fewer details. According to UFCW spokesman Mike Shimprock: "Management has refused to compromise on providing health benefits, instead creating a plan that mirrors that of corporate healthcare villain Wal-Mart: expensive and ineffective enough that no employee participates. Instead of being good corporate citizens and partners in the health of our society, management is instead destroying their employees’ healthcare and risking another grocery strike to marginally increase their profits by 3%." Apparently Mr. Shimprock hasn't heard that food prices are soaring these days; otherwise, he would realize that higher wholesale prices and bargain-hunting shoppers both tend to decrease the profit in running a grocery store.

Two points to make here. First, call us heartless, but we don't really care whether our grocery store is "being good corporate citizens and partners in the health of our society"; if the market is clean and the food is delicious and affordable, we're pretty happy with it. And we accept that our market has the right to earn a profit by doing that; they're the ones who put up the money and take the risk to run a grocery, not us. Put another way, we'd really prefer that they focused on offering food for us to buy, rather than on giving us a warm and fuzzy "community" feeling. Second, is it just us, or is the rhetoric coming from organized labor noticeably shrill these days? We wonder if recent events in Wisconsin and Ohio have flipped the "militant" switch within the country's unions, and no one knows how to turn it off. We're talking about grocery workers getting health benefits for as little as 16 hours of work a week, and having to pay a monthly premium of $36 for them. Trust us, we know people buying on the individual market these days who would kill for a plan like that. So why is this guy bringing up Wal-Mart? It amazes us that, with the average Californian hurting these days, the people representing these unions can't see how their sense of entitlement comes across to everyone else.


  1. I've spoken with folks who work in grocery stores about this. In the past, in lieu of higher wages, the grocery clerks bargained for what we all now regard as very generous healthcare benefits. So, this feels like a giveaway to the clerks I've spoken with. My conclusion is that a union, in negotiations, should always go for tangible benefits in the now. The clerks would've been better off to get all the cash they could have gotten in the past.

    Some of these clerks have been in the union for forty years. The world has changed. What was once a decent job, allowing a middle class life, isn't any longer. My sympathy to these people.