Do You Shop At Safeway? Well, Don’t

If you do your grocery shopping at Safeway, or one of its subsidiaries (Vons, Randalls, Carrs, etc.), I’m going to ask you for a personal favor:


Huh? Why not?

I’m asking you to stop shopping at Safeway because of a really appalling stunt they are trying to pull out in California — a stunt so bad that 70,000 of their employees have been on the picket line for five months now trying to stop it. Here’s the story.

The issue is a new proposal by three major grocery chains, led by Safeway, to renegotiate their employees’ health benefits. Currently, the chains cover health insurance by paying into a fund an amount equal to about $4 times the total number of hours worked by all employees. The chains claim that this is too expensive for them to sustain, so they are proposing to split employees into two groups — existing employees, who would be covered in a pool that would still be set at the amount of $4 times their hours worked, and new hires, who would be covered at the much lower rate of $1.35 times their hours worked.

To hear the employers tell it, that’s not that big a deal; making up the shortfall, they claim, would require employees to “pay a small portion of their premium for health-care coverage — just $5 a week for individual employees and $15 a week for employees and their families.” Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Well, that’s the idea. The problem is that these figures don’t show you the true cost of the proposal.

Here’s the problem. If you’re one of those new hires, it’s pretty clear why the new plan sucks for you — an independent analysis of the plan by the San Francisco Chronicle found that the new employees would end up paying four to six thousand dollars a year in health care costs, which is a lot of money for anybody, much less for someone working the deli counter.

But the thing that isn’t obvious is, the plan sucks for existing employees too — even though they still have the $4 figure rather than the $1.35 one. Why is that? It’s because their cut doesn’t come to the dollar figure, it comes to the “hours worked”, since every time a new employee is hired his or her time gets counted outside the original employees’ pool.

The end result is that the new plan takes the cost of health care — a cost that grocery workers, of all people, can’t afford to bear on their own — and drops it square on the employees’ shoulders. Sure, Safeway puts in a few bucks for appearances’ sake, but when you start talking about expecting $95 co-payments, something’s clearly wrong.

Now, when Safeway floated this proposal, it didn’t take long for its employees to figure that out for themselves. Through their union (the United Food and Commercial Workers), they pulled together, pushed back, and, when Safeway refused to compromise, went out on strike in protest.

That was last October. It’s now February — five months later — and they are still out there.

Yes, that’s right — on top of everything else, Safeway has decided that the way to win this dispute is not by sitting down with its 70,000 striking employees, but by, essentially, starving them out. Never mind how much business they lose in California, or how much goodwill they lose between management and employees; no, they are out to play hardball and put those uppity workers in their place!

So here’s what I’m asking you to do. These folks have gone for five months without a paycheck or health insurance, living off an increasingly threadbare strike fund. They’re fighting against plain old greed — the companies behind the new proposal have seen their operating profits go up 91% since 1998, and they still see the need to dump on their workers like this. Those workers are just trying to earn a living without having to pay backbreaking, unreasonable insurance fees. They deserve your support.

So give it to them!

  • Don’t shop at Safeway while the strike is on. Duh. You can’t cross the street and shop at Giant?
  • Put a few bucks in the strike fund. The strikers have bills to pay like anyone else, and five months on the picket line means five months with no paycheck. You can contribute online to the UFCW’s strike fund through the AFL-CIO Web site.
  • Make your voice heard. The UFCW has a tool to send an e-mail to the companies behind the plan registering your protest. Even better, if you have a Safeway Club card, cut it up and mail it to them (Safeway Inc., 5918 Stoneridge Mall Road, Pleasanton, CA 94588) with a note explaining why you did it — remember that you can always get a new one when Safeway comes back to their senses!

You’ve got to admire the tenacity these people are showing — holding a strike together for five months takes some serious commitment. But tenacity doesn’t pay the bills, and commitment won’t beat some common sense into Safeway’s collective skull. They need the rest of us to pitch in and help them out. So do what you can — cut up that Club card, cross the street for your groceries, or, if you’ve never shopped at Safeway, at least throw a few bucks in the strike fund. Every little bit helps.



February 5, 2004
2:28 pm

Its a bit disingenous to leave out the fact that once reason Safeway is trying to trim health care costs is becuase Walmart and other super-store types are moving in on its turf. Since these stores are non-unionized, they have much lower labor costs – primarly driven by health care costs. These are costs which Safeway can’t compete with in the long run. So, if these folks win it could ultimately be a pyrrhic victory in that a few months/years down the road they may not have jobs at all.


February 5, 2004
3:41 pm

So because Wall Mart is a evil company that does not allow its workers to unionize, Safeway should be allowed to bust its unions to stay competative?
15 Bucks a week is a lot of money for someone on Supermarket wages to pay into a family health care fund. Now, I’m sure Health Care in California is more expensive than here in Virginia, Since Ca. probably got a bunch of goofy regulations that drive up prices, but that does not mean Safeway should take its expense issues out on its workers. I’m a rather conservative guy (for northern Virginia at least), but I do feel a business should take care of its own, and not use health care costs as a reason attack its own unionized workers.

Jason Lefkowitz

February 5, 2004
4:06 pm

I’m with Joe on this one. If Safeway is feeling the pinch from WalMart, they should be pushing for WalMart to have to pay its workers decent health benefits, too — otherwise we just end up in a race to the bottom. WalMart’s bad labor practices are well-known, and we’d all be worse off if they became the norm rather than the exception.
And it’s not like the gulf between the union and Safeway couldn’t be bridged — the UFCW came to an agreement with one of the other companies they targeted in the walkout, Kroger, after nine weeks on the picket line:
So they are willing to play ball if management will do so as well. But so long as Safeway stonewalls its workers and pins the blame on WalMart or the union or Santa Claus or whatever, there’s not gonna be any progress at all.


February 5, 2004
4:43 pm

This issue is about affordable health care. Safeway can afford to retain health care benefits that its employees can afford. Instead, the company is choosing not to. This is a problem that’s becoming increasingly common among major retailers. For example, since it was mentioned, Wal-Mart. How much would you guess the insurance premium is for a new Wal-Mart employee making minuimum wage? If you guessed $750, you’d be right. That’s outrageous. Again, Safeway does not need to eliminate affordable health insurance for its workers to remain solvent! I’ve seen Safeway’s financials and I’m familiar with the shareholder campaign. This is out and out greed.


July 28, 2006
8:54 pm

All I have to say is that as an employee, I am SICK TO DEATH of these people kissing customers’ asses and sh**ting on their employees. If you wouldn’t want your mom, dad, sister, brother, son, daughter, grandma, to be treated horribly, then please don’t shop there. I had to fight like hell to get benefits 6 months after I was entitled to them, and the bennies are now unbelievably crappy. They bought the rx processor, so now they completely control prescription prices. Do any of you pay 50% for generics??? Please boycott these stores. Besides, almost ANY other grocery store is less expensive with equal customer service. It’s a win-win for you.


January 10, 2007
6:00 am

okay I work for safeway and have discovered manegment treats me better than the union. My healthcare through work while I will concede is bad it has nothing to do with safeway the union makes safeway use bluecross here wich is horrible PPOs in gemeral are however this statement of $4 an hour towards healthcare is off to for here because they spend less than they ever have in the past and are paying 6 something with a contractual requirement for atleadst 96 hours a month thus totaling at least 576 dollars a month however I usually get 40 hours a week so thats 960+ a month wich is more than 38000 dollars for the store for all the employees every month assuming less than half the employees per store get what i do when many are on better contracts than me (the unions fault as much as safeways) and operating on the same assumption its over 6.5 million per month for the entire company and thats just retail it doesnt cover the bakers meat/seafood backstage teamsters etc. and remember health care isnt a requirement at all…
as a matter of facr i would perfer to make a tiny bit more than i do without the healtch care than what i make now with the best ppo in the universe because i can get better cheaper insurance than what the union chose for me PPOs are bad and kaiser (our HMO option abailable after like 5 years) is not that good