Workers hold the line for health care

LOS ANGELES – “Empty Safeway’s stores and cash drawers” by taking action to cut them off from the source of their money – consumers and communities, United Food and Commercial Workers President Doug Dority told a massive rally and march here Dec. 16. He appealed to workers and consumers in the U.S. and Canada to use their buying power to support striking Southern California grocery workers’ battle to defend health care for working families. “Shut down Safeway’s profits,” Dority said. They only understand money he added

Over 8,000 Teamster warehouse workers and drivers have joined the 70,000 Southern California grocery workers on the picket lines.

The growing momentum of solidarity and determination was apparent as strikers, their families and supporters, numbering in the thousands, chanted “One day longer, another day stronger,” on the mile-long march from Avenue of the Stars in Century City to the Safeway-owned Pavilions market in Beverly Hills. They were joined by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney at a Solidarity Summit preceding the march.

In a no-holds-barred speech to the gathered workers and supporters, Dority laid out the high stakes of the 66-day-old strike, charging that Safeway has embarked on a destructive course designed to effectively eliminate health care benefits at work. “The collapse of supermarket industry benefits will create a corporate tidal wave that will sweep away benefits in other contracts for all workers in every industry,” he said.

The 1.4-million-member UFCW, which includes hundreds of thousands of grocery workers in city, small town and suburban stores, calls itself “North America’s neighborhood union.” The union has moved to activate its grassroots network through local union presidents who will spread the union’s “shop out” appeal to the public through their communities.

Rev. James Lawson, chair of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, quoting Jesus of Nazareth – “the worker deserves his wages” – warned, “If Wall Street is able to win this, – it will push our land into a dark age.”

Dority charged that if Safeway has its way, children will go without medical care and families will be forced into poverty. “Who can better afford the cost of health care benefits? Safeway whose profits jumped 90 percent since 1998 or a single mom making less than $19,000 a year?” he asked. “Has the single mom’s wage rate jumped 90 percent?”

The international union is funding the basic strike benefit “well into the New Year,” said Dority. With millions of dollars of support pouring into Southern California to win this fight, “the local unions will be in a financial position to hold the line for health care,” he said.

Send checks and messages of support to “Hold the Line for Health Care” Strike Fund c/o Secretary Treasurer, AFL-CIO, 815 16th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20006.

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