February, 2004

Statement of UFCW Int’l President Doug Dority On the Southern California Strike

Today, I am pleased to join with the officers of the seven Southern California UFCW local unions in their announcement of a tentative agreement in the longest major strike in the history of the UFCW, the largest and longest strike in the history of the supermarket industry, and the first major strike of the 21st century.

It is also one of the most successful strikes in history.

After five months, the picket lines remain strong, our members remain united, and customers continue to honor the workers’ picket lines costing the supermarket conglomerates billions of dollars in revenue.

Every day, support for the fight for affordable health care grows stronger. Community and religious leaders have put their bodies on the line in acts of civil disobedience. There have been scores of arrests from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay area to Baltimore, Maryland. There are daily rallies, demonstrations, picket lines and handbilling from Seattle and Portland to Washington, DC. The Southern California supermarket strike has become a national cause.

The men and women on the picket lines are genuine heroes. Their sacrifice for affordable family health care has motivated and activated workers across the nation. I am honored to be part of their union, and I am humbled as well as inspired by their dedication, strength and selflessness.

These members will never be forgotten. They will always be honored and respected. We owe them a debt of gratitude. They have sent a message to employers everywhere that attempts to eliminate health care benefits will come at a high price. Workers will not sit idle as their families are denied health care protection. Workers will stand united and fight for health care.

In Southern California, workers were given no choice but to fight. UFCW members have never faced, nor has nay UFCW-represented employer ever made a more extreme or drastic demand—a demand that would have effectively eliminated affordable health care benefits, as did the supermarket employers in Southern California. The UFCW, its local unions and its members rose to the challenge. The employers never believed that workers could sustain a five-month strike. The employers completely underestimated the determination and fortitude of their employees.

Through their struggle, the striking and locked out workers have performed a service for the whole country. They have sounded the alarm for all of America—your health care benefits at work are at risk. If the supermarket giants—profitable, growing Fortune 50 mega-corporations—can launch an attack on health care benefits, then every employer is sure to follow. They have sounded the alarm that the American health care system is ready to collapse.

In one year, over 2 million lost health insurance. That’s over 6,000 workers a day.

The fight here has given us a national call to action.

We must have national health care reform. No one company, no one union, no industry or group of workers alone can fix the health care system. We can patch it up. We can protect our members for another contract term, but the system continues to falter, exacting an increasing cost on both workers and employers and leaving more and more families without health care.

Now is the time for action. 2004 is the year to put health care reform on the political agenda and demand that every candidate for office commits to comprehensive, affordable health insurance for every working family.

No worker should ever again be forced to choose between a paycheck and health care benefits. No worker should ever again be forced into the streets for five months to protect health care for their families.

The UFCW will lead the fight for health care reform. And, I believe, with members like our Southern California members—the UFCW will win that fight.

FIGHTING FOR AMERICA

Senator John Kerry will be on the picket line with UFCW members today at 1:00 p.m. at the Vons store at 710 Broadway (Lincoln & Broadway) in Santa Monica, California to highlight his commitment to national health care reform.

Access to affordable family health benefits is the issue that forced 70,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) on strike against Safeway/Vons, Ralphs/Kroger and Albertsons for more than 5 months. The Southern California supermarket strike has sounded the alarm to America that our health care system is in crisis and that all workers are at risk of losing benefits.

Striking Vons worker Cathi Shafer said, “”I’m proud to have John Kerry join our picket line today because he is committed to the principle that health care is a right—that if you work hard, you’ve earned the right to health care. This fight is about our future. We are not going to give up on our future. And John Kerry is not going to give up on the future for working families.”"

Melissa Larson has been walking the picket line with her husband said, “”John Kerry put his life on the line for his country. He wasn’t afraid to fight for America. He will fight for affordable health care for America’s working families.”" John Kerry will call the striking workers American heroes for their courage and commitment to hold the line for America’s health care.

Senator Kerry was endorsed by the UFCW and the AFL-CIO last week for his commitment to worker issues like health care. UFCW members have made tremendous personal sacrifices during the 19-week battle, relying on food banks to feed their families, applying to hardship funds to keep a roof over their heads and supporting one another to keep picket lines strong. Supporters from across the country have poured millions of dollars in donations to the striking supermarket workers and mobilized thousands of supporters to actions at Safeway and Albertsons stores across the country.

Renewed Support Re-Energizes SoCal Supermarket Strike

From Portland to Philadelphia, Seattle to Washington DC and Baltimore, community members and religious leaders are rallying at Safeway stores, demanding the company end its efforts to effectively eliminate health benefits for grocery workers. Concerned community members are asking customers to help hold the line and not shop Safeway. Workers, backed by their communities, have vowed to take the fight to save health care everywhere Safeway operates.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has also launched a radio campaign in these areas. The spots, featuring two Southern California workers on strike, also ask customers to shop elsewhere, and to join the fight to save affordable health care by picketing their local Safeway store. Text of the radio spots is below.
Over 15,000 March on Northern and Southern California Safeway Stores
After nearly four months on the picket line, workers continue to stay strong in the fight to save health benefits at work. In Los Angeles, union members, grocery workers, community leaders, and clergy members gathered at the Great Western Forum and marched on a nearby Vons store. In a demonstration of solidarity, several other unions pledged generous donations to help the striking and locked-out workers in their time of need. The California Teachers Association donated $500,000 for a statewide radio campaign asking customers not to shop at the struck and locked-out chains, while the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) pledged to raise $1 million to cover the cost of health benefits for the workers who lost their health care on January 1.
At the same time, a demonstration at an Oakland Safeway drew hundreds of supporters. Several participated in a symbolic sit-in, including Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente. De La Fuente and 14 other community, religious, and labor leaders were arrested for refusing to disperse and blocking the entrance.
Community members are backing grocery workers in an unprecedented showing of support. Workers in every industry know that, if Safeway (Vons), Kroger (Ralphs), and Albertsons can succeed in effectively eliminating health benefits for their workers, then all workers’ health benefits nationwide stand to disappear.
Safeway CEO Under Pressure
Steve Burd May Be Forced to Resign
Safeway CEO Steve Burd, the mastermind behind the effort to effectively eliminate health care for working families, is feeling the heat from investors. Safeway’s business has continued to slump because of his poor management decisions, including his adamant attempts to end affordable health care. Burd’s mismanagement has led to a combined loss of over a billion dollars at Southern California Vons, Albertsons, and Kroger stores. Industry analysts are concerned that Burd’s tactics have permanently damaged the Safeway brand name, and alienated the very same workers who have made the company profitable.
The “”Grocery Workers Justice Pilgrimage”" brought nearly 300 religious leaders and workers to Burd’s home in the affluent Bay Area suburb of Alamo last week. Participants prayed outside of Burd’s gated community, asking the CEO to stop turning a blind eye to the suffering he is causing. They also brought over 10,000 messages from Southern California workers asking Burd to help save affordable family health care, instead of eliminating it.
California Attorney General Sues Grocery Chains
Mutual Aid Pact Allegedly Violates Anti-Trust Laws
California Attorney General Bill Lockyear announced Saturday a lawsuit against Safeway (Vons), Kroger (Ralphs) and Albertsons. The three chains entered into a profit-sharing pact at the start of the strike. The attorney general’s office has stated it believes the pact is in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The agreement, which has not been released to the public, is believed the have hurt customers by discouraging competitive pricing among the chains. The attorney Lockyear addressed thousands of supporters about the lawsuit at the Los Angeles rally this weekend.
TEXT OF UFCW RADIO SPOTS:
#1
Hi, I’m Maria Patris. As a breast cancer survivor, health care is a matter of life and death. Now, I and 70,000 other supermarket workers have been forced to strike because Safeway wants to take away health benefits. I’m not giving up—health care is worth fighting for. If Safeway can take away my health benefits, then Safeway could take away health benefits from families in your area.
Join us at your local Safeway store and help hold the line for affordable health care.
A message from the working men and women of the UFCW.
#2
Hi, I’m Gary Gallucci. My dream is to give my kids a better future. Now, Safeway is threatening my dream. I and 70,000 other Southern California supermarket workers have been forced to strike to save our health benefits. I’m not giving up—family health care is worth fighting for. If Safeway can take away our health benefits, Safeway could take away health benefits from families in your area.
A message from the working men and women of the UFCW.