LOS ANGELES - If Safeway and its CEO Steve Burd have their way, the 21st century will have conditions more like the 19th century for working families, said Connie Leyva, president of Local 1428 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, speaking to a panel led by four Democratic California congresspeople.
The panel was convened Feb. 13 at Loyola Marymount University here to examine the impact on working families of the five-month old strike and lockout of 70,000 Southern California grocery workers.
Leyva stated that under the employers' proposal, the low-paid grocery workers will not be able to afford adequate health care for themselves and their families, nor will they qualify for MediCal (California's Medicaid program). New workers would probably end up with no health care at all and would soon replace the protected union workers, making for more Wal-Mart-style jobs.
The California Grocers Association calls their concept a "new model of competition and worker-community cooperation." But Leyva says it aims to create "a whole underclass of employees that puts a big target on our back."
Rep. George Miller was more blunt. "Your new model of a competitive market and community, frankly, sucks!" he said, addressing the supermarket chains' management, which had failed to show up.
Republican legislators were also no-shows, but hundreds of grocery workers filled the meeting hall to hear from union representatives and the congresspeople.
Rep. Linda Sanchez commended her colleague, Rep. Miller, for his eloquence, pointing to the trend for more and more corporate thievery by dumping health care for the workers and leaving them in part-time, underpaid jobs with no security or benefits.
Miller discounted the companies' excuse of competition from nonunion Wal-Mart.
"Of course the prices at Wal-Mart and Costco are cheaper," he said. "They stole it. This is the model for many corporations today." Also participating in the panel were Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Grace Napolitano.
Across town a day earlier, Longshore Local 13 members presented 272 individual checks totaling $100,000 to members of striking and locked-out UFCW locals who otherwise would lose their health care when their benefits expire at the end of the month.
And on Presidents' Day, Feb. 16, grocery workers and supporters literally rolled up their sleeves to donate to a blood drive as a way to say thank you to the people of Southern California who have supported their battle to "hold the line on health care." According to a report from the Associated Press, Safeway is losing at least $20 million a month as a result of the strike.
Roberta Wood contributed to this story.