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Hold the Line on Health Care

October 30, 2003 Updated: August 24, 2020

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.