UFCW nationalizes picket lines

Union workers turned up the heat in the health care wars this week as striking grocery workers methodically advanced their campaign to “nationalize” their picket lines.

Southern California Teamsters Union members at eight giant distribution centers walked off the job at noon on Nov. 24 when the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) pickets arrived. The Teamsters rank and file wanted to do this weeks ago, according to Jim Santangelo, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42, which represents 150,000 truck drivers and warehouse workers in 24 locals. “They’re saying it’s about time,” he told the World. Santangelo says the 8,000 warehouse workers and drivers are keenly aware that if the Safeway-owned Vons, Kroger and Albertsons grocery chains have their way with the UFCW members, the Teamsters will be faced with the same health care take-away demands when their contract comes up in two years. “Teamsters won’t cross the picketlines,” he said with assurance, “absolutely not.”

The UFCW announced that 30 picket lines went up throughout the Washington, D.C., area on Nov. 22, in addition to picket lines that are ongoing in Northern California’s Bay area, Fresno, and Sacramento.

According to the union, sales are down in all of the communities where they have extended their picket lines. “It is clear that the public understands that our fight is for affordable health care for all working families,” they say in a Nov. 23 statement.

If support can be measured by solidarity actions, the union must be right about public support. Steve Neal, director of labor community services for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, reported that $100,000 has been collected and used to fund the agency’s food distribution program, including $58,500 from the unions that make up the Pipe Trades District Council 16.

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