Santa Cruz Indymedia :
Santa Cruz Indymedia

An epilogue, I hope!

Well, a settlement is being voted on as I write this. I hope it's fair to both sides, and I hope it'll stick.

I want to add something that may not obvious. Safeway ain't my favorite store! I shop there once in a while, because I can't find baking needs, or affordable bell peppers, at the hippie stores I normally go to. I use the term "hippie" affectionately; you gotta admit that Food Bin and New Leaf are weird.

I do sincerely believe that the strike in Southern California, and the outside protests up here, are weakening Safeway and beckoning Wal-Mart to enter the California grocery business.

I will always say that the best thing any worker in a standardized field of employment (characterized by minimal entry requirements and a large number of identical jobs) can do is quit and start working for herself. That's what I've done in my own working life. Problem is, some people don't like risk, can't afford risk (what if you've got a family?), or run up against structural barriers (try getting health insurance if you're self-employed, or getting a business loan if you're black).

Working for any kind of large organization robs us of our dignity and deprives us of the chance to develop and use our talents. In short, standardized employment prevents us from being ourselves and realizing our potential as human beings on this planet. But for those who do not want to, or who simply cannot, take risks, "less evil" companies like Safeway are better than "more evil" companies like Wal-Mart.

Consumers, who have been left out of the public debate, also have a stake. Food prices are outrageous here. The UFCW has some part to play in that. I'm not saying that workers are wrong to ask for more. I'm just saying that customers, who will foot the bill, should have some say.

I also maintain the UFCW presented the health insurance issue dishonestly. Money is money. How to divide up overall compensation -- what portion should go to senior employees (via the salary scale), what portion should go to health insurance (via the employer's contribution to insurance premiums), what portion should go to overtime (via restrictive work rules), what portion should end up as cash in people's pockets -- is ultimately the union's choice.

The employees, as a group, aren't losing any ground economically if their total compensation rises with the Consumer Price Index. That index, whether we look at the Los Angeles figure or the national figure, has been stuck around 2 to 2.5% for several years and will stay there for some time yet.

Workers who ask for more than the CPI should be honest about it: they're asking for a discretionary raise. Then it becomes a debate about affordability and merit.

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