Striking workers hold the line on health
Oct. 30-- Rafael Morga, on the job 30 years with Ralphs supermarket
in Chino, Calif., last year was named Ralphs King of Courtesy
in all of southern California and is so familiar with his store he can
do every job in every department.
But along with other major profitable grocery chains, including Safeway
and Albertsons, Ralphs is demanding deep cuts in health benefits that
would leave Morga and nearly 90,000 other United Food and Commercial
Workers (UFCW) members from California to West Virginia, who are on
strike or have been locked out, vulnerable like workers at Wal-Mart,
whose competition grocery executives claim is driving them to slash
health benefits for their workers.
The grocery chains are demanding what amounts to a 75 percent cut in
health coverage for new workers and a 50 percent cut for current ones.
As a result, UFCW leaders say coverage would become unaffordable and
meaningful health care unattainable.
Workers could lose key benefits, including dental, vision, well-baby
care and preventive office visitsand might have to pay as much
as half of a $20,000 hospital bill.
Im angry that months prior to this strike the companies
took such a hard-line stance and werent willing to negotiate,
says Morga, a UFCW Local 1428 member who has walked the picket line
with co-workers 10 to 12 hours each day since the strike began three
weeks ago. We all want the same thingsaffordable health
care, our kids to go to good schools, a decent way of life.
The grocery chains attempts to slash workers health coverage
signals a new race to the bottom in job-based health care for Americas
working familiesone precipitated by corporate giants such as Wal-Mart
that make health coverage unaffordable for most of its workers.
According to a new AFL-CIO report, low wages combined with high costs
make Wal-Marts health coverage unaffordable for 46 percent of
its low-paid workers. In 2001, Wal-Mart workers had to pay between 41
percent and 47 percent of the total cost of the company health plan,
while similar employees at other large companies paid 16 percent of
the total premium for single coverage and 25 percent for family coverage.
These strikes are not just about UFCW members, because if the
giant supermarket chains can kill health care in southern California,
then all employers will feel that they can get away with eliminating
benefits, says UFCW President Douglas Dority.
To hold the line on health care, Morga today joined other southern California
UFCW workers at a Washington, DC, press conference where union leaders,
including AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney and UFCW President Douglas
Dority, joined to demonstrate their commitment and support for the striking
and locked-out workers under a union-movement-wide banner: Hold the
Line for Americas Health Care.
In a time when employers are routinely trying to shift the burden
of health care unto working families shoulders, these workers
are holding the line for quality, affordable care for all of America,
says Sweeney. This is an extremely important struggle, not only
for union members, but for every community in this nation by taking
on their workers, these big, profitable companies are taking on all
Joining Sweeney and Dority were Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers
and Grain Millers President Frank Hurt, Machinists President Thomas
Buffenbarger, SEIU President Andrew Stern and community leaders such
as Wade Henderson, executive director of Leadership Conference on Civil
Rights, and Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women.
Safeway is taking a hardball approach to negotiations, a strategy that
will hurt investor returns both short- and long-term, according to a
new report by the AFL-CIO Office of Investment.
The AFL-CIO released the report, Squeezing Safeway Workers Wont
Solve the Problem, today during a conference call it co-sponsored
with J.P. Morgan and Smith Barney Citigroup investment firms for Safeway
analysts and investors. The report points to deeper underlying causes
for Safeways financial woes than health care costs, including
poor investments that are destroying Safeways competitiveness
in southern California.
Executive Vice President and Collective Bargaining Department Director
Sarah Palmer-Amos also spoke to Safeway investors and analysts. Palmer-Amos
updated participants on the strikes and reviewed the UFCWs efforts
to maintain affordable health care for its members who work for the
major companies in the retail food industry.
Meeting of antiwar labor activists
campaign to end US occupation in Iraq
By Harry Kelber
Oct. 26 -- More than 150 labor activists representing 99 organizations
came together in Chicago on October 24-25 at the call of the US Labor
Against the War (USLAW) to plan a national campaign that will defend
the rights of workers here at home while demanding an end to the American
occupation of Iraq and the many injustices against the Iraqi people.
In its adopted mission statement, the anti-war labor organization declared:
The foreign policy of the Bush Administration, with the consent
of Congress, is based on military aggression and the threat of force.
It has weakened, rather than strengthened, security in the US, creating
enemies around the world and alienating friends
The wars against
Iraq and Afghanistan have turned into hostile occupations that are developing
into Vietnam-like quagmires.
The statement also noted that massive military spending, combined
with tax cuts for the rich, are creating colossal budget deficits that
threaten to destroy needed social programs for decades, further undermining
the standard of living here at home.
In its forthcoming national campaign, US Against the War will emphasize
the interconnection between the war in Iraq and the war
on working people at home, especially against minorities and women.
The Chicago meeting coincided with a huge anti-war rally in Washington,
where 100,000 people gathered to hear impassioned denunciations of Bushs
War, by a broad list of speakers, coupled with insistent demands
that our troops in Iraq be brought home.
A vivid picture of the grim conditions that Iraqi workers are enduring
under the US occupation was reported by the delegation that USLAW had
sent to Iraq. Saddam Husseins 1987 decrees banning union organizing
and strikes are still being enforced by the occupation administrators
in the name of fighting terrorism.
In June, the occupation authority promulgated a new law prohibiting
strikes and threatening any worker who encourages strike activity will
be held as a prisoner of war.
A resolution presented to the Chicago meeting stated that the
US occupation authority has announced it intends to privatize the factories,
refineries, mines and other enterprises, selling them off to private
owners, despite the fact that these enterprises belong to the Iraqi
people, not to the US, and has issued a new law, Public Order 38, allowing
100% foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses and the repatriation of profits.
Reports from Baghdad reveal that since the wars formal end on
May 1, the US civil authority has frozen wages for most workers at $60
a month, while eliminating bonuses, profit-sharing, and special entitlements
for food and housing.
Neither the AFL-CIO leadership in Washington nor its International Affairs
Department has publicly responded to the plight of Iraqs workers
and the appeal of their hard-pressed unions for funds, computers, office
supplies, and other forms of assistance.
In fact, the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions have not officially recognized
that a war took place in Iraq and that the enormous postwar problems
in that country affect the lives and economic future of Americas