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.