Thursday, February 26, 2004
The stores accomplished such goals as installing a two-tier system of employee compensation, under which new hires would earn considerably less in wages and benefits than current employees, the sources said.
There also would be a cap on how much the supermarkets contribute to their employees' healthcare coverage, a change the stores aggressively sought in order to combat rising healthcare costs, they said. Until now, all of the workers' healthcare costs have been borne by the stores.
The union, meanwhile, persuaded the grocery stores to contribute more money into the workers' health care reserve fund, the sources said. The upshot of that move, they said, is that veteran grocery employees should not have to contribute to their healthcare coverage in the first two years of the contract, although they might have to pay some amount during the third year. [link]
Quick and dirty analysis: In the end, asking the strikers to stay on the line for the benefit of workers who hadn't yet been hired was too much. The agreement has significant protections for current workers, but new hires will be firmly planted in the lower class.
There's a lesson here about solidarity. What we need is one big union.
Seriously. The only way that the workers on the line could have beaten back the supermarkets - and the only way they should be expected to take responsibility for doing it - is if they were part of a vibrant movement. If, for example, the Teamsters had continued to refuse to deliver goods, and had refused at every store, the supermarkets would have lost. But even then it's just the Teamsters and the UFCW against three multi-billion dollar corporations. Where were the rest of us?
I'm reminded of an organizing conversation I had about a month ago. I was talking to a first year teaching assistant from one of the science departments. She agreed that our health insurance wasn't very good and thought that it would be a very nice thing if our employer picked up at least part of the tab. But she also thought that it wouldn't be fair if we got coverage while so many working people didn't.
I think it would be great if we had a comprehensive national healthcare system. But I also think the only way to get there is by having strong unions that win major concessions from employers. Why? Because the only way to fund comprehensive national healthcare is by imposing a new tax on employers. And the only way employers are going to sit still for that is if the burden of the new tax is offset by savings in their employees' benefits packages.
What's being said around the blogosphere (I'll keep updating this as I find stuff):
As always, the Joe Hill Dispatch is the definitive site for labor news.
Calpundit argues that the diminishing power of unions is allowing corporations to roll back health coverage and that, ironically, this is likely to lead to increased popular support for national healthcare.
Pacific John at Gropinator echoes and amplifies Calpundit's point.
Update: There's quite a discussion thread going on over at Calpundit. The star, as far as I'm concerned is this post from a certain R.Porrofatto. He points out that in 2002 the compensation packages for the top 20 HMO executives amounted to: "not including stock options: $237,907,917! Add to that the stock options: $1,153,864,691! Yes, that is a billion dollars! Together you are looking at $1.75 billion that went to twenty people in that industry in 2002 alone!!!!!"
It's worth reading the whole post.
Update: Body and Soul weighs in with a thoughtful post that links the grocery strike to the ongoing debate about globalization.
Update: Nathan Newman argues that this strike was so damaging to the supermarkets that other corporations will think twice before trying to take health benefits from workers.