Labors Trumka takes Safeway picket nationwide

Launching a campaign to go nationwide and all-union with the Southern California grocery strike, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka met with representatives from 50 city and state labor councils in Washington Jan. 20. Trumka, who directs the federation’s strategic campaigns, is coming onboard to personally lead a campaign to spread the picketlines across the country in order to put major pressure on the supermarket chains, according to AFL-CIO spokesperson Sarah Massey.

“Anywhere Safeway has a major market, we will be there,” Massey told the World.

Besides “intense education” of Safeway shoppers, the campaign will also include attempt to persuade pension funds and other shareholders to take stands in the workers’ favor and to put pressure on supermarket executives and directors. The supermarkets have lost an estimated $1 billion in sales, but so far their stock prices are holding steady.

“The 13 million members of the AFL-CIO will do whatever it takes to make sure that these striking and locked out workers hold the line one day longer than their employers,” vowed Trumka.

On Jan. 21, a dozen ministers and union leaders crossed barricades and sat down in front of Safeway corporate regional headquarters in Arcadia, Calif., determined to be heard at a meeting of corporate executives, while a crowd of 500 strikers gathered outside. The entire group of sit-downers, which included California AFL-CIO head Art Pulaski, was arrested. “Affordable health care is a moral issue,” explained Rev. William Jarvis Johnson of Calvary C.M.E. Church.

In another sign of the labor movement’s recognition of the strike’s import, membership meetings of three Southern California locals of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have passed motions authorizing $25 additional dues payments from each member for six months to help pay the health care benefits of grocery strikers whose coverage expired Jan. 1. With that contribution, ILWU locals in Southern California will have raised and pledged more than $1 million dollars in support of the strike, including sizeable individual donations, according to the union’s Communications Director Steve Stallone.

Supermarket workers are in the 15th week of the strike and lockout. The key issue is the companies’ demand to shift $1 billion of health care costs to the employees with the establishment of a two-tier system that would eliminate health care coverage for new employees and de-fund benefits for current workers.

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