PLEASANTON, Calif. – Hundreds of workers from Safeway and other area grocery chains filled the space in front of Safeway’s corporate headquarters here with a sea of bright yellow T-shirts May 20, giving a resounding welcome to Safeway CEO Steve Burd and other company bigwigs at their shareholders’ meeting.

The workers, who stood in solidarity with their Southern California sisters and brothers during their recent 138-day strike, are gearing up for the Sept. 11 expiration of their contract covering 30,000 grocery workers. As in most recent labor actions, health care is the crucial issue.

Speakers for the United Food and Commercial Workers union emphasized that the workers who built Safeway and other grocery giants are fighting not only for themselves, but for the retirees and the workers of the future. Retirees joined members of the youth organizing committee on the platform, to resounding applause.

UFCW leader Jim Grogan, in charge of mobilizing the fightback in Northern California, warned that if the companies make the same demands in this area as they did in Southern California, the union will call for a boycott.

The support of the entire Bay Area labor movement and key community allies was shown by the participation of Judy Goff and John Dalrymple, heads of the Alameda County and Contra Costa County Central Labor Councils, along with the Rev. Phil Lawson of the Northern California Interreligious Conference and the Northern California Council of Churches.

“I believe Steve Burd has a vision – to eliminate health care from the workplace,” said Goff. “It doesn’t matter that you worked for it and won it in negotiations. Steve Burd is joining with the Wal-Marts of the world, and workers say No!” she declared.

Pointing out that millions of nonunion workers in California lack any health coverage, Dalrymple said, “We have to take this as a struggle for every working family, union and nonunion.” Both stressed the importance of this year’s ballot-box fight to save SB 2, requiring employers of 50 or more workers to provide health coverage, from a corporate-inspired effort to overturn it.

Said Lawson: “Nothing gives more power to your life than when you come together for an act of justice. We need to make this nation understand that health care is a human right. It is not optional, not negotiable.”

After the rally the workers continued to pound their message home, as the sea of yellow shirts morphed into a mass picket line outside the shareholders’ meeting place.

The author can be reached at mbechtel@pww.org.

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