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.