OAKLAND, Calif. – “I’m here to fight for my benefits,” said Teresa Gonzales. Gonzales is a picket captain for the United Food and Commercial Workers union from Hawaiian Gardens in Southern California. She has been here for weeks leading a team of Southern California grocery workers who are informing shoppers of the issues in their strike.

Standing in front of the Safeway in the Rock Ridge shopping mall, Gonzales told the World, “I’m epileptic, and in 1998 I had a grand mal seizure right in the store.” The ambulance, emergency treatment and hospitalization for that single incident cost over $3,500 dollars, and her insurance covered it. Under Safeway’s new proposal, Gonzales said she would be forced to come up with half the cost. “I can’t do that,” she said. “I have to fight for my benefits.”

Ryan Morlan, another picketer, said, “If they [the grocery stores] get their way on health care, I won’t be able to pay my rent.” Morlan said the company’s proposal includes a $95 a week premium payment and increases co-pays for each doctor visit from $15 to $35.

David and Vicky Cuevas are husband and wife strikers from Laguna Niguel. Vicky pointed out that both she and her husband would be required to pay the $95 weekly health care premium even though they are both covered under the same family policy. David said one of his co-workers, a single mother, has a young daughter with failing kidneys who requires weekly dialysis, a very expensive treatment. Her current coverage pays all the costs. Under the company’s proposals, she would have to pay the total costs out of her own pocket. To make matters worse, her income ($7.55/hour) is too high to qualify for state or federal assistance for her daughter’s dialysis. “For her this is truly a life or death struggle,” he said.

The Cuevas family knew this was going to be a tough fight. “The union told us and we all knew this was going to take a hard toll on us,” they told the World. “Most of our fellow workers started saving, paying off credit cards and car payments getting ready for this strike.” David and Vicky Cuevas refused to take any money from the union strike fund for the first three weeks. Other pickets are doing the same thing. “We know what it is going to take to win, and that’s how determined we are to hold out one day longer than the company.”

The author can be reached at scott@rednet.org.