October, 2003

Hold the Line on Health Care

Statement by Doug Dority
International President
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
Hold The Line For America’s Health Care

October 30, 2003

I want to thank John Sweeney and the AFL-CIO for arranging this event and for helping to build a coalition to “Hold The Line For America’s Health Care.”

Almost 90,000 UFCW members, 70,000 in Southern California alone, are in the streets in a fight to save health benefits at work.  Make no mistake about the scope and the consequences of this struggle. It is corporate greed vs. human need and corporate greed is a killer.

If corporate greed prevails in this wave of strikes, it will signal the death of workplace health care benefits in the supermarket industry and, eventually for all workers.

The supermarket giants, Kroger, Albertson’s and Safeway, led by Safeway’s CEO Steve Burd, are trying to cover their agenda with a misinformation campaign about the true nature of their demands.    They are lying about the impact of their proposals.  They are trying to mislead both workers and customers into passively accepting their plans to kill affordable health care.

The issue is not cost sharing, worker co-pays or deductibles. It is not about premiums.

Kroger, Albertson’s, Safeway and Steve Burd propose to eliminate health care benefits for all future workers in the Southern California supermarket industry. They propose to shift massive costs to current workers until the existing health care plan collapses.   And Kroger is trying to do the same thing in West Virginia.

Of course they don’t say that is their purpose, you have to look at the funding mechanism.    Like so many politicians, they promise a program, but then fail to provide the funding to support it.  Or much worse, they promise a program and then propose a funding mechanism that they know will kill the program.

We are here to say, Safeway, Kroger, and Albertson’s and particularly to Steve Burd:   you have miscalculated the resolve of workers.   You have underestimated the determination of the UFCW.

You have failed to see the strength of support for workers from the community, from the labor movement, from religious leaders, from civil rights and women’s organizations and from everyday Americans who think its wrong for profitable corporations to take health care from working families.

Make sure you understand the impact on working families.     It is not simply a matter of a tighter budget to pay for health care. It is not about giving up a few luxuries, so the kids can see the doctor. Working families will face the choice between food and health care—between the rent and health care.

In Southern California, a working mom with a couple of kids can work in a supermarket and keep her family out of poverty.

Maria Lopez was supposed to be here today but she is at her mother’s bedside, helping her recover from a stroke she suffered last night.   Maria supports herself and her three children on her wages she earns at Vons/Safeway.  She makes about $19,000 a year and with health benefits, her family is secure.

Take away her health benefits and how is she going to pay for health care? There is no fat in her budget. There is no extra.    A broken arm, the flu…any illness could be a financial disaster.   We are not going to let that happen.

UFCW members will not give up, they will not give in—UFCW members will hold the line for health care.    The UFCW will mobilize all of its resources, all of its members and all of its friends and allies.   We will not allow any worker to be starved into giving up health care benefits.

We will be there one day longer, fighting to save health care, than Safeway will be there, trying to kill health care.

> First, we will maintain strike benefits. We have amassed tens of millions of dollars to support our members holding the line.

> Second, today we are announcing the “Hold The Line For Health Care Fund.”   Organizations and individuals can make contributions to provide emergency relief to striking families.

> Third, we will ask our friend and allies to take action in areas where there are strikes—to honor picket lines, to put up a yard sign, to send a message to the employers to settle the contracts and keep affordable health care.

> Fourth, we have received requests from our striking members to extend their picket lines.   We are considering their request.  We could extend picket lines from the stores in Southern California nationwide to all Safeway, Albertson’s and Kroger stores.

> Fifth, UFCW members in Arizona are working without a contract with these employers.   The contracts for workers in Indiana and Memphis are expiring very soon.   Safeway, Albertson’s and Kroger could face additional strikes before the end of this year where our members are holding the line to save health care.

In all areas of the country, we are asking friends and allies to contact Steve Burd and Safeway. Tell them to stop the attack on working families.

These strikes are not local matters—they are the battlegrounds in a national fight over the future of health care benefits at work.

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.

UFCW members on strike for health care are fighting for all workers. They are heroes and I am proud to be part of their union.    On behalf of those working and their families, I want to thank all of you who came here today. Together, we will win this fight.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Union Presidents, National, Consumer, Civil Rights, Religious, and Women’s Community Leaders Will Announce Actions to Support Striking Grocery Workers

Sweeney to be Joined by UFCW President Doug Dority, SEIU President Andrew Stern, IAM President Thomas Buffenbarger, NOW President Kim Gandy

Across the country, from Southern California to West Virginia, Missouri, and Ohio, almost 90,000 supermarket workers are on strike, fighting to save affordable health care for their families and all of America’s workers.   Under the banner of “Hold the Line for America’s Health Care,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and UFCW President Doug Dority will be joined by other union leaders, as well as national leaders from consumer, civil rights, religious, and women’s groups to show their commitment and support for the striking workers.  Several of the strikers will be also be available. Sweeney and the other labor leaders will announce a major initiative to support the striking workers, including nationwide financial support.

WHO:

  • AFL-CIO President John Sweeney
  • Douglas Dority, President, United Food and Commercial Workers, UFCW
  • Andrew Stern, President, Service Employees International Union, SEIU
  • Thomas Buffenbarger, President, International Association of Machinists, IAM
  • Kim Gandy, President of National Organization for Women, NOW
  • Leaders from religious groups, health policy, women’s, and community leaders
  • Striking grocery workers from Southern California

WHAT: For the past two weeks, workers have held the line for America’s health care against managements’ proposed cuts that would make health insurance unaffordable and unattainable for grocery workers.  Press conference in support of striking grocery workers. Slide presentation of the health care proposals at the heart of disputes.  Announcement of AFL-CIO strike fund.

WHEN: Thursday, October 30, 2003, 1:00 PM EST

WHERE: AFL-CIO, President’s Room, 815 16th St. NW, Washington, DC.

(A call-in number will be available for out-of-town reporters. Call Sarah Massey at 202-637-5018.)

Lies, Damn Lies and Company Lies

Complete Press Kit about Company Lies about Health Care Proposals (pdf)

…more (strike newsletters, worker testimony, news clips)

Statement by
Sarah Palmer Amos
International Executive Vice President and Director of Collective Bargaining for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

October 22, 2003

From Southern California to West Virginia and Missouri in between, almost 90,000 supermarket workers are fighting to save affordable health care for themselves, their communities and future generations of workers.

This outbreak of strikes in different parts of the country is not a coincidence. It is part of a planned and coordinated effort on the part of major retail food chains to effectively eliminate worker health care benefits in the supermarket industry.

The employers have tried to cover their real agenda with a coldly calculated misinformation campaign about the true nature of their demands on health care. The supermarket giants are afraid to tell the truth because they know the public would be revolted by the unrestrained greed and the total disregard for human need contained in their demands.

In all my years of bargaining contracts, I have never seen a more flagrant employer campaign of lies than I have witnessed here. We are talking about people’s lives. We’re talking about their ability to provide health care for their children. We’re talking about their ability to obtain medical care in life and death situations.

The employers, Albertsons, Ralphs, and Vons, are pounding away with the big lie. Over and over again they say “”it’s only about a modest co-pay.”” How dare they lie when they know the facts, they understand exactly what their proposal would do.

70,000 jobs in Southern California that now come with comprehensive affordable health care would be transformed into low wage jobs, without meaningful health care benefits. And the next generation of supermarket workers and every generation thereafter would be without health care protection.

The employers would abandon their commitment to the workers who have given them a lifetime of service. Retirees would face increasing costs and reduced benefits. The employers, led by Safeway CEO Steve Burd, have made their intentions clear: cut cost regardless of the human cost; squeeze another penny in profit, and the public be damned. As Burd said, “”this is an investment in our future.””

People are not part of the equation in Burd’s view of the future. But people are the source of Safeway’s profits.

 

Safeway is built on superior service from workers and loyalty from customers. Steve Burd now threatens both.

The fact is: customers come to Vons and other Safeway outlets because the workers establish a relationship with customers. They are friends and neighbors. Supermarket workers are part of the fabric of the community.

How can you keep the profits that come from superior service when you attack the very workers that provide the service?

Steve Burd is like a fading movie star, desperately trying to regain his former glory. From being the darling of Wall Street, he is now a box office bust. And now he expects Southern California workers to pay for his miscues in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Supermarket workers in Southern California average about $12 to $14 an hour and most do not get 40 hours a week.

Under the employers’ proposal, after three years, an average worker would earn about $12.30 an hour, that’s $369 a week before taxes are taken out or about $19,173 a year.

That’s a salary that can keep a single mom and her children out of poverty but, cut her health care benefits or shift several thousand dollars worth of health care costs from the company onto her and, look what happens.

A self-supporting working family can be reduced to near poverty. A self-supporting working family can be reduced to welfare.

Who should bear the burden of rising health care cost—a $19,000 a year working mom or Southern California taxpayers who will pay when more workers become eligible for Medi-Cal? Or, should Safeway be responsible for its workers?

Operating profits for the employers have increased ten times faster than health care costs. A little of that profit should be used to pay the cost of health care.

The UFCW remains ready to talk about cost containment. We will cooperate in any program or plan that stretches the health care dollar or makes the benefits more efficient but we will not agree to the elimination of health benefits in the supermarket industry!

The workers on the picket line are heroes. They are fighting not only for themselves but for future generations of workers. They have earned the support and the respect of their communities. I am proud to be part of the their Union.

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