Over a Thousand Grocery Workers Protest Expired Contract – Demand Better Health Benefit
One thousand plus protestors held a vocal but peaceful rally and march on Michillinda in Arcadia under the watchful eye of Arcadia Police who were there en masse complete with SWAT vehicle and two officers on horseback Tuesday morning.
With a contract that expired March 6, there are hundreds of frustrated employees ready to strike with the union’s blessing. Stickers saying “ I don’t want to strike, but I will if I have too” were worn but just about every participant in the Rally on Tuesday morning and hundreds more showed solidarity from neigboring communities and some as far away as Paso Robles.
Adding their voice to the 62,000 grocery workers represented by United Food and Commericial Workers, community leaders urged Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons to negotiate a fair contract that affords workers the opportunity to make ends meet instead of burdening taxpayers with health care costs.
“While these grocery store chains scored $5 billion in profits over the last three years, they want to shift the cost of health care to workers and taxpayers to boost their profits another three percent,” said Rick Icaza, President of UFCW Local 770. “We want a fair contract that respects the workers who are the backbone of these profitable companies.”
According to organizers, the three national grocery chains at the bargaining table made $5 billion in gross profits over the last three years, paying $500 million in dividends to Wall Street and investors.
The health care proposal being pushed by Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons is said to potetentially boost their profits another 3% by shifting $450 million of health care costs to employees. The shift also would burden taxpayers by forcing workers unable to afford these higher premiums onto Medicare and the state’s Healthy Families program.
If implemented, management’s proposal could “amount to as much as 50% of the average full-time worker’s take home pay, as much as an additional $11,000 in costs. The overwhelming number of grocery workers today is permanent part-time employees whose average annual income hovers around $17,000” According to a press release handed to media Tuesday.
“Our hard work is one of the reasons they have been able to score record profits. We only want what is fair. Right now they believe we’re too afraid to walk out, but they don’t understand that for a lot of us, our health care plans are the only way we can make ends meet,” said 21-year Albertsons checker Kelly Pierce.
While talks presided over by a federal mediator are still ongoing, UFCW members voted this past April to authorize a strike if the grocery chains insist on replacing their current healthcare plan with a most costly alternative to workers.
Today’s event was one of three across the Southland at the corporate headquarters of Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons. Community leaders at all three locations urged the companies to come to fair agreement that respects workers.