CHICAGO – Grocery workers at two local supermarket chains here are appealing to consumers to boycott their stores in support of their battle to hold on to health care and pension benefits.

Hand-billing shoppers in front of six northside stores of Treasure Island and two of Potash Brothers, the members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881 charge that management proposals for their new contract would eliminate eligibility for health care for up to 50 percent of those currently covered, and make costs unaffordable for the rest.

Consumers were receptive to the workers’ message, Elizabeth Drea, spokesperson for Local 881, told the World.

“People understand the high cost of health care and losing pensions,” she reported. The local was already forced to file an unfair labor practice charge against Treasure Island, she said, when management began taking individuals employees aside to discuss changing their health plans. Federal labor law prohibits employers from changing wages or benefits without negotiating with the union.

Both supermarket chains also insist on replacing guaranteed pensions with risky 401(k) plans. But Ronald Powell, Local 881 president, told reporters that the union would not “allow them to gamble the employees’ guaranteed pensions on the stock market.”

“Until there’s a real fix for the health care crisis in this country, it will continue to be an issue in all negotiations,” said Drea, “and not just for retail workers.”

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

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