Today I returned to Safeway, for the first time in a month because I desperately needed Claritin. I suppose Walgreens might have had it, but I didn't think of that. After explaining to the picketers that I was only buying medication, I grabbed my item and headed for the express lane. Surprise of all surprises! but who should be scanning items? Why, my favorite checker, Neal. He seemed a little low on energy, understandable at six o'clock on a Sunday evening, and he didn't seem to recognize me. I decided to move on from our movie-themed conversations.
"What do you think about all this strike business?"
"I think it's sad," he said. "Those people have been on strike for three months. They have families to support and some can't pay rent."
"How come Northern California Safeway workers aren't striking too?"
"Our contracts are offset by a year. This year it'll be us."
I have been paying pretty close attention to the Safeway handouts and had no idea that the same issue would hit home so soon.
When I got back to an internet connection, I decided to do some poking around (as I apparently do more than I ever realized before starting this blog) and found the following:
Safeway has been trying to convince customers that it is asking a reasonable $5 or $15 copay for health benefits. Two public policy economists from UCLA and UCSD took a closer look at the offer being negotiated and found that it substantially eliminated affordable healthcare for employees (see SF Chron article).
California Congressman Tom Lantos took a closer look too and came to the same conclusion (see letter to Safeway CEO).
Safeway claims that it needs to ask workers to shoulder a larger part of sky-rocketing health costs, but health costs may not be the economic trigger for the new policy. Competition from Wal-Mart is a more likely factor. Wal-mart intends to build forty superstores throughout California in the next three years, all of which will contain bargain-rate supermarkets, the same stores that have made Wal-Mart the number one grocer in the country(SF Gate article).
Wal-Mart offers groceries for 14-39% less than large chain grocery stores, and Safeway must start to copy its business model if it wants to compete. How does Wal-Mart do it? There are several answers to that question (see LA times article).
- Wal-Mart pays its workers less than half what Safeway pays them.
- Wal-Mart is avidly anti-union, making it impossible for workers to organize demands for affordable healthcare or a living wage.
- Wal-Mart does not accept slotting fees (essentially legal bribes to place certain products at eye-level and on end-caps) or the higher wholesale costs that accompany them, though all other major chain stores do (source here).
- Wal-Mart exports all production to the cheapest producer in the world market.
So what do you and I do to make sure Neal still has a job next year? Support the Safeway workers strike by shopping elsewhere and calling 1-877-SAFEWAY with our Customer Card numbers to tell them that we won't shop there until they support workers' health benefits, and that we won't shop Wal-Mart if they come.
Alternatives to Safeway
- The Costco Cartel--Every Thursday I will go to Costco and purchase goods for my friends at the price+10% (tax and service) rounded to the nearest dollar. I will then park in front of Noe and you can retrieve your goods when assembling for or returning from pub night.
- Seven-Eleven at 18th and Noe
- The closest to you of the hundreds of tiny, privately owned markets
- Trader Joe's on 9th street between Brannan and Bryant
- Whole Foods at 399 4th St. between Fulsom and 80
- Rainbow Grocery at 1745 Folsom St and 13th (under the Duboce offramp)
- Add your favorite grocery store in the comments section
I haven't yet figured out how to square the competing interests in this globalization beast, but if you have, the people to write to can be found here: know your legislators.