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Attention, Shoppers: Los Angeles Supermarket Workers Are On Strike!

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  • SIUHIN@aol.com
    Attention, Shoppers: Los Angeles Supermarket Workers Are On Strike! The Role of Women & Asian Pacific Islanders In This Important Labor Struggle By: Lee Siu
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 30, 2003
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      Attention, Shoppers: Los Angeles Supermarket Workers Are On Strike!
      The Role of Women & Asian Pacific Islanders In This Important Labor Struggle
      By: Lee Siu Hin
      October 29, 2003
      [Web and Photos:
      http://www.actionla.org/Campaigns/Supermarket/Oct%2030%2003--Report.htm%5d

      "We will keep on striking as long as it takes!"
      Diana Truong-Davis, picket captain from Vons Supermarkets


      Since mid-October, 70,000 supermarket clerks from nearly 900 Vons,
      Albertsons and Ralphs supermarkets in southern California have been engaged
      in a round-the-clock non-stop strike (or have been locked out of work by
      management), in response to the management proposal to cut their health
      benefits in half. At the same time, thousands of mechanics and bus drivers
      from the city's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) also launched a strike
      when management demanded it be allowed to take over the employee's health
      care trust fund. In addition, on October 22 L.A. county professional
      employees and engineers demonstrated in a lunchtime labor protest (legally,
      government employees cannot go on strike), to demand better wages and
      protest cuts in benefits. No doubt this is Los Angeles's biggest labor
      strike since the janitor strike of 2000, and the focus is on fighting
      against health care cuts.

      While there are many other alternative places to shop in Los Angeles, the
      three biggest supermarket giants in southern California, Vons, Albertsons
      and Ralphs, are everywhere from San Diego to San Luis Obispo. Although their
      employee's average pay and benefits are still better then working in
      sweatshops in downtown Los Angeles, the management of these chains wants the
      workers to contribute more to the rising costs of health care so the stores
      can better compete with nonunion rivals like: Wal-Mart. When United Food and
      Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 770, who represents employees of the
      three supermarket giants, refused to accept the companies' demands, the
      union tried to negotiate with management for two months before talks
      deadlocked on Oct. 5, and the UFCW called for a strike on October 12, asking
      workers not to go to work and shoppers not to shop at their stores.

      Largely ignored by the corporate media is the role of women and Asian
      Pacific Islanders in this important labor struggle. It's not difficult to
      realize just from looking at the picket lines that the majority of the
      striking workers and organizers are women, housewives, immigrants, people of
      color and inner city youth, including thousands of Asian Pacific Islanders
      (APIs) on the picket line. Some suggest that this could be one of the
      biggest women/housewives/API organized labor struggles in recent U.S.
      history. Corporate executives of the three supermarket chains underestimated
      their women and new immigrant employees, assuming that people who barely
      speak English wouldn't have the guts to go on strike--but the workers'
      actions have proved them wrong.


      The API Community in the Supermarket Strike
      The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the API-wing of AFL-CIO,
      has been closely working with API striking workers, and has launched a
      public education campaign in the Chinese community to win support for the
      strike. Most Chinese immigrants live west of downtown Los Angeles, in areas
      such as Alhambra, Monterey Park (AKA. the Chinese "Beverly Hills"), El
      Monte, Roland Highs and San Gabriel.

      Despite popular stereotypes about the API community, many Chinese immigrants
      are still living at the poverty level. According to Michael E. Fix and
      Randolph Capps ("Immigrant Well-Being in New York and Los Angeles"), despite
      strong attachment to the labor force, large numbers of immigrants and their
      families in New York and Los Angeles have low incomes, lack health
      insurance, and are food insecure. The report says the most powerful
      predictor of poverty and hardship is limited English skills. Immigrants
      arriving after welfare reform's enactment in 1996-who have the most
      restricted access to public benefits-are poorer than immigrants arriving
      before the law's enactment.

      Chinese immigrants who cannot speak English end up working in Chinese-run
      grocery stories or restaurants, with minimum wage and no benefits. Those who
      are lucky enough to speak English or who have some job skills can work in
      offices, at the post-office, or in "foreigner-run" (in Chinese terms,
      anything not run by Chinese is considered "foreigner-run") stores.

      Diana Truong-Davis is a picket captain from Vons Supermarkets in Alhambra,
      and a wife, a mother and a Chinese supermarket worker. She was one of the
      first API organizers involved in the strike at her store. She speaks good
      English, so she is one of the lucky ones: working for Vons brings in far
      higher wages than working for any of the nearby Chinese-run grocery stores.

      At the beginning, many shoppers couldn't understand why, when they are paid
      better than most of their fellow Chinese workers, they were still going to
      strike? "I would be happy if my employers gave us benefits!" some argued
      with Diana. But she says if this labor struggle fails, their pay and
      benefits will be eventually dropped to sweatshop levels. She recently wrote
      a personal e-mail to her friends, explaining why she would risk her family
      income to go on strike:

      "Currently Vons, Ralphs, and Albertsons are on strike. The employees are
      asking to keep what they have earned -- health care and pensions. It all
      started with Wal-Mart making Billions! They paid most of their employees'
      minimum wage. Only the full timers get health care. 60% of [Wal-Mart]
      employees have no health care provided to them, yet their employers are
      making BILLIONS. [When our] Safeway, Ralphs, and Albertsons contract expired
      this year on Oct. 5th they decided to try the "Wal-Mart" way of business.
      This is why we are on strike. Employers earn profit with the hard work of
      the employees. In return, the employees should be able to 'earn' their
      health care. The markets also want to take away our pensions. Help me out
      here: if it was only [a] $15 a week [healthcare payment], I would have gone
      back to work in a heartbeat rather than picket 17 hours a day in the heat
      and night. Just look at how Wal-Mart is making billions while stealing us
      blind in the health care department. I think we already pay enough for our
      hard work and being honest."
      - Diana Truong-Davis, Picket captain


      Issues on the Supermarket Worker's Strike
      According to the union and the strike organizers, corporate executives from
      Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs have refused to negotiate on the key issue of
      benefit cuts, waging an expensive PR campaign and taking out full-page ads
      in local newspapers against the striking workers. Although the Los Angeles
      Times, in whose pages have appeared many lavish ads bought by the big
      supermarket chains, have printed some good coverage of the strike, their
      editorials clearly support the supermarkets. And several local Chinese-run
      newspapers have also taken sides against the strike, or limited their
      coverage to the "good news" of the surge of business at Chinese-run
      supermarkets caused by the strike.

      Currently the UFCW and APALA are putting a strong effort into supporting the
      strike and helping striking API workers, considering this a very important
      labor struggle in light of upcoming labor contract negotiations with other
      southern California supermarket chains-some of whom incidentally are also
      owned by some of the three supermarket giants (for example: Food 4 Less,
      another major supermarket chain in LA, is owned by Ralphs and workers are
      represented by the UFCW, but they are not on strike because their contracts
      will not expire until next year). For their part, management is not backing
      off, blaming the long strike on the unions. Here are some of the issues they
      are fighting:

      Health Care: The employers say they just want their employees to share a
      "reasonable" portion of their health care cost-the so-called $5 a week for
      individuals and $15 for families. However, according to the union, this is a
      lie: the employers also want to increase co-payments, institute deductibles
      and place caps on payments for prescriptions and surgeries. This amounts to
      a 50% cut in medical benefits that would shift almost a billion dollars in
      health care costs onto the workers over the term of the contract.

      Wages: The supermarkets' PR argues that employees are well paid; however,
      according to the strikers, the companies selectively cite only the highest
      wage levels of full-time food clerks to back their claims - as if these
      wages are typical. The companies don't tell the public that many employees
      earn less than $10 an hour. Furthermore, they don't tell the public that 75%
      of supermarket employees work part-time and must keep their schedules open
      so they can be called in to work at ANY TIME when needed. On average, these
      on-call workers only make $312 a week.

      Although picketing all day under the sun, still very hot in Southern
      California even in October, is no easy task, strike organizers like Diana
      Truong-Davis believe that it's not just the living standards of 70,000
      workers, mostly youth, women, people of color and immigrants, that are at
      stake here, but the future of other labor struggles in Los Angeles as well.
      Greedy corporations increasingly want to slash workers' wages and benefits
      to increase their earnings, in the process changing the lives of thousands
      of workers now and in the future for the worse.


      For more information about the supermarket workers' strike, please check:
      http://www.SaveOurHealthCare.org
      or call: (213) 379-3631

      To know more about the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), please
      check:
      http://www.apalanet.org


      *Lee Siu Hin is an organizer from ActionLA in Los Angeles, a reporter for
      Pacifica Radio KPFK-Los Angeles, and a coordinate council member of United
      Students Against Sweatshops. To contact him e-mail: siuhin@...

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