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November 24, 2003

Picket Lines Spread to Supermarket Warehouses and Distribution Centers

The Southern California supermarket strike gaining new momentum and support with the extension of picket lines from coast to coast over the weekend will now expand the fight to hold the line for health care to the warehouse and distribution facilities of all three supermarket chains.
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) on strike at Safeway-owned Vons stores and locked out at Ralph’s and Albertson’s stores will ask Teamster members to hold the line for health care and honor their picket lines. A Teamster decision not to cross the lines would effectively shut down the distribution system that supplies the retail outlets, and  would bring increased pressure on the supermarket employers who are already facing strong consumer support for the workers.
UFCW members believe they and the Teamsters have a common cause and a common enemy. A win for corporate greed in the store workers’ street fight for health care would put benefits at risk across the entire supermarket industry. While the supermarket employers in their most recent Teamster contract agreed to maintain existing health benefits, the companies’ refusal to agree to a similar provision to maintain benefits for store employees would spell trouble for the Teamsters in their next round of negotiations. The effective elimination of store employee health benefits, as the employers are demanding, would put Teamster benefits next on the chopping block, and could weaken their position at the bargaining table.
A UFCW-Teamster united front would build on the growing solidarity among all worker and other progressive organizations in support of the supermarket strike. On November 22, thousands of workers and supporters from women’s, religious, student and community organizations turned out in Hold the Line for America’s Health Care rallies in Oakland and Orange County, California as well as Washington D.C. National AFL-CIO President John Sweeney announced that over a quarter of a million dollars has already been raised through the Hold the Line Fund, and that the 13 million member federation would continue to raise funds to provide emergency relief for striking and locked out workers.
October 30, 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.

October 28, 2003

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.)

August 5, 2003

Las Vegas Wal-Mart Worker to Share Spotlight with Presidential Candidates

(Las Vegas) – Wal-Mart underestimated Larry Allen when it fired him last Friday in retaliation for his union activity. Tonight, Mr. Allen has the ear of key Democratic Presidential candidates following the AFL-CIO’s national working families Democratic presidential forum in Chicago.

Allen is joining thousands of union members on Tuesday, August 5th from 8:00-9:30 p.m. E.T. at Chicago’s Navy Pier where the candidates are responding to questions posed by workers. C-Span will broadcast the forum.

Allen is a produce clerk at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at Eastern & Serene in Henderson, Nevada. He began work there in May, 2002, and got involved in the effort to organize for a voice on the job in September.

Allen took two vacation days to attend United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Convention in San Francisco and participate in a presidential health care forum on August 1, 2003 with five Democratic presidential candidates who were critical of Wal-Mart’s inadequate health insurance. Allen spoke with reporters before the forum to give a background perspective the health care crisis.

When Allen returned to work on Friday, he was summarily fired on the pretext that he violated the company’s no-solicitation policy. He was fired “”pending investigation.”” Wal-Mart’s own policy requires a complete investigation before an employee is terminated. Wal-Mart’s labor relations’ policy dictates that no personnel action can be taken in a store with union activity without approval and involvement of the Bentonville, Arkansas-based labor relations “”people”” division.

He has always been a reliable, hard-working employee who received a good evaluation in April. His only brushes with discipline came when he confronted a co-worker who he believed was sexually harassing his wife — Allen told him to “”knock it off.”” Allen was written up. A couple months ago, a manager took him aside and told him that he really shouldn’t be passing out union cards in the break room. But federal law and Wal-Mart’s store policy protects workers from retaliation from union activity in “”non-work areas”” including break rooms.

Before his wife got a job in a union supermarket and became eligible for health insurance through her employer, Allen went without. He worked full-time at Wal-Mart but couldn’t afford to buy the company’s health plan. In January, 2003, Allen started feeling odd and sought treatment at an emergency clinic. He was in the beginning stages of having a stroke and was treated in the Intensive Care unit for five days. Health care workers saved his life, even though he couldn’t pay for their services. Luckily, he had a full recovery and suffers no effect from the stroke. He takes prescription medicine now to help prevent another incidence – medicine that would cost him more than $300 per month. Thanks to his wife’s employer-provided health insurance, he pays a small fraction of that bill $8.00. He will spend the rest of his life trying to pay back the more than $30,000 he owes to the hospital.

Wal-Mart workers in Las Vegas and across the country are standing up for a voice on the job with the UFCW. The Las Vegas workers have set up their own website — www.walmartworkerslv.com

August 4, 2003

Nation’s Largest Private Sector Union to Host Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum on Health Care Reform

United Food And Commercial Workers International Union Convenes in San Francisco July 28 through August 1, 2003

More than 5,000 delegates, alternates and guests to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s (UFCW) Fifth Regular Convention will gather in San Francisco, California, July 28—August 1, 2003, to set a working family agenda for 2003 and beyond.

A highlight of the 1.4 million member union’s convention will a presidential candidates’ forum on health care reform at 2:30 P.M. on July 31, 2003 at the Moscone Center. Confirmed attendees include, Governor Howard Dean, Representative Richard Gephardt, Representative Dennis Kucinich, and Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun. Senator John Edwards, Senator Bob Graham, Senator John Kerry, Senator Joseph Lieberman, and Rev. Al Sharpton have been invited. Bill Press will moderate the discussion.

UFCW delegates, representing the United States and Canada, will address some of the most urgent economic and social issues including:

· The health care crisis in the U.S. and health care privatization in Canada;

· Wal-Mart’s war on North American workers;

· Organizing initiatives to give workers a free choice for a voice at work;

· Labor-management conflict on health benefits and pension programs; and

· The 2004 U.S. general election.

Delegates representing UFCW—America’s Neighborhood Union—members in grocery stores, food processing plants, nursing homes, hospitals, manufacturing plants and public service will meet from July 28-August 1, 2003 at the George R. Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. The UFCW is North America’s largest private sector union and has consistently grown with aggressive organizing in the growth sectors of the North American economy and workforce.

Featured speakers at the Convention include: San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (July 28), AFL-CIO President John Sweeney (July 29), Representative Loretta Sanchez (July 30) and, Erin Brockovich (July 31).

The general sessions of the UFCW are open to credentialed members of the press.