Strikers, Unions and the Head in the Sand Club

Grocery strike a reality check for the future of grocery stores in Southern California

By Alberto Marrero Salas
Published on LatinoLA: December 20, 2003

Strikers, Unions and the Head in the Sand Club

As the grocery employees unions enter their third month of the current strike the time has come to ask some hard questions: Is the union defending the rights of its present employees or is it using its present employees as sacrificial lambs in order to perpetrate the union itself?

The present strike cannot be justified. Union members have lost income that can never be replaced. Strikers are earning $20 a day versus the $17 per hour plus benefits that most of them earned.

There is now talk of the employee?s health plan going broke due to the fact that the stores have not been funding the plan since the initiation of the strike.

The burden of this strike has been horrific on the employees.

The striking employees have sacrificed the Holiday season. A old friend of mine who works at Albertson's sarcastically told me that this year's theme song is ?I?m Dreaming of a Broke Christmas?.

The public has not supported the strike. People do not cross the picket lines because of support for the union. People do not cross picket lines because they are afraid and do not want to be harassed.

People are afraid of going to Vons, but go to a Ralph?s and you will see lines from four to six shoppers deep.

The actual difference between the management offer to the current employees and the employee?s demand is small. The big difference appears to be in the proposal by management to ? future hires?.

What do future hires have to do with the current employees? Nothing. What do future hires have to do with the Union? Everything. Future Union dues, future Union membership depends on ? future hires?.

So the present members of the Union go on striking, losing income sacrificing themselves on the altar of ? Union Brotherhood? .

If Ralph?s, Vons and Albertson are to survive they must be competitive with the WalMarts and other non-union stores. WalMart did not sell any groceries at all five years ago. Today they are the biggest grocers in the United States.

If Ralph's, Vons and Albertson's do not restructure their future pay rates there will not be any jobs at these stores, union or not.

Personally I very seldom walk into a WalMart. The parking is congested. The lines are horrible and navigating a cart through the aisles is like driving home in rush hour freeway traffic.

I don?t like bagging my own groceries. That is why I don?t go to Food for Less. I realize that over the years I have paid more at a Big Three store but you pay for convenience. After three bypasses I don?t need the stress of shopping at Food for Less or WalMart.

I would rather pay $20 at Ralph's or Rite Aid then $15 at WalMart.

Regardless of my personal feelings, consumers love a bargain. There are many low-income persons that benefit through the WalMart concept of always the lowest price. Senior citizens, retirees and others on fixed income are specially benefited.

Who are we to deny low-income people the right to shop for the best price?

The myth of the local mom and pop grocery store is just that a myth. The local store is today a 7-11, a liquor store or a specialty store that caters to a particular ethnic or national group.

In New York, New Jersey and Miami the mom and pop bodegas are thriving as they sell Caribbean and products from Spain to the local Puerto Rican, Dominican and Cuban populations.

In Los Angeles walk into a Vallarta, a tamaleria, a Mexican bakery, a Salvadoran specialty store and no one there gives a hoot about WalMart.

In the final analysis (unless we outlaw WalMarts and other non-union stores and force consumers to pay a higher price whether they want to or not), this does not affect the reality of the situation.

The Big Three grocery chains in California have got to change or go out of business. The math is simple. Stores that pays $10 an hour can charge lower prices than a store that pays $17 an hour plus health and retirement benefits.
The Big Three must give some service that the bare bones discounters do not or lower their operating cost. There is no other alternative.

No politician, union, striker or labor organizer can change that. One and one are always two.

Through strikes, the Union is trying to maintain an artificial wage scale rather than a wage that the market will allow.

The Unions have buried their collective heads in the sand. It is time that the Unions deal with reality. It is time that the Unions watch out for their members rather than watching out for themselves.

About Alberto Marrero Salas:
Alberto Marrero Salas born in Cuba, American by choice. Administrator Estamos Unidos Wilshire. Elder LDS Church. Eight children, married to Olivia from El Salvador.

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