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Grocery Workers May Strike – Updated

September 18 – It looks like the strike may be off for at least a few more hours. UFCW had earlier said they would strike Sunday evening if talks did not proceed. Shortly before the deadline of 7:10 pm, both sides advised the media that talks were continuing and that workers would not strike as long as both sides remain at the table. This is good news all around. Talks could continue through the night. We’ll keep you posted.

September 15 – We just got word the grocery workers may strike as early as Sunday. The grocery workers and stores were ordered to go back to the table three weeks ago for “intense” negotiations. Those talks have apparently broken down and, unless the two sides can come to agreement, a strike may arise as early as Sunday evening.

Last week I was going through the grocery line at the local Von’s. As the cashier was processing my order, I asked her how the talks were going. “Who knows”, she said. “They don’t tell us anything.” She said that she really hoped they would not strike because she couldn’t afford it. Too bad I didn’t have a bigger order that would have let me talk to her longer. I would have told her that her hardship would be felt by more than just the strikers. As I left, I noticed her nametag said “serving since 2001.”

Whether you agree with the strike, support the unions or believe the whole thing is a waste of time, one thing is certain- a strike will hurt everyone. Hopefully, both sides aren’t taking the day off from negotiations and the strike notice is merely cautionary. I like and shop at several non-union stores in our town. But, I like Albertson’s as well. I’ve read several comments on stories about the strike. Some say they will, some say they won’t cross the picket line. One thing is for sure. In this economy, the strikers will find a lot less support than last time.

What’s for Dinner?

My daughter is finally back from her Summer spent with her grandfather. That could mean only one thing: a trip to the grocery store.

While my daughter has been away, my wife and I have happily subsisted on fast food and salads, mixed with an occasional pizza here and there. As a carnivore, items to grill were particularly useful to us as it kept the heat out of our unairconditioned house. So, today’s sojourn had us stopping at one of my favorite stores, Trader Joes. I won’t go into the bloody details but suffice it to say my wallet was a tad lighter coming out of the store.

Of course, this trip got me to thinking a little more about the grocery workers and the pending strike. Most of us remember the bloody strike of 2003-2004. There was strong support for the strikers

Grocery workers strike in 2003-2004

Photo courtesy of the OC Register

with one union contributing heavily to their strike fund and several unions holding “sympathy strikes”. During that time, I refused to cross the picket lines in the first weeks of the strike, choosing to take my business to Stater Bros. and Trader Joes. In the first days of the strike, many people were choosing alternative stores to shop at.

It is unfortunate that both management and union chose to cheat the system. The stores struck hired scabs on the side and even secretly hired some of their own employees who crossed their own picket line in a selfish move for “me” without looking at the long term consequences. I wonder now if those same employees would do it again? The chains were also caught in a secret plot to conspire against the workers, although about the only thing they got for their transgression was a slap on the hand.

The union employees started strong. But, their picket lines eventually degenerated at times to name-calling mobs and some of their ranks defected (see above).  On the picket line, many could be seen talking more among themselves and not even holding signs up or making an effort to keep their message fresh and in front of the customers whom they needed for support. It became as commonplace to see them as the homeless guy standing humbly by the water vending machine waiting for an anonymous patron. Once, as I walked by the doors of Von’s to get to my Starbucks next door, a picketer yelled at me, thinking I was going into the store, until he saw me head toward Starbucks. What did that say for their perseverance and their fortitude? You see, it is one thing to stand with the group. But, you have to believe in the group you stand with. That is the whole idea of the union to begin with. The strike vote is one of the most powerful tools a union can have. It should be used wisely and sparingly. When it is used, you can’t shoot blanks like the UFCW did so long ago.

And people remember.

Although I am a conservative, I believe in the right of employees to protect their jobs by organizing unions and associations for a common purpose. I believe in the right to strike to protect wages and benefits. And to my critics, I’ll say I have worked both sides of the aisle as manager and employee and my view has never changed. I worked for years in the aerospace industry where management and workers could mutually respect one another and still stand up civilly for their rights. When I saw how the grocery workers were defeating themselves with their bane tactics, it made me feel as if they didn’t really care. And, in the end, I found myself crossing the line in disgust because I couldn’t put up with the bullying, pedantic behavior.

So, here I find myself again. The UFCW has authorized a strike. The reality is looming and I have to ask myself the same question: would I cross the picket line? The answer is a qualified “no”. Although Albertsons is my favorite market, I find I have many other choices nowadays. When I go to my mainstay, Trader Joes, I’m like a kid in a candy store. They offer so much more than Two Buck Chuck. And, there are a lot more places. Henry’s World Food Market and our old standby, Stater Bros., which still has, in my opinion, the best meat counter in town. All these options make it just that much easier to shop elsewhere and support the rank-and-file worker who has seen their pay and benefits decline.

Federal mediators, recognizing history of a strike that cost the stores over $1.5 billion dollars and the workers an unknown amount in wages and benefits, have ordered the parties back to the table for “intensive” negotiations by August 29th. I hope, for everyone’s sake, that both sides will be able to come to agreement. It is sad to say, but the grocery workers will never be the same as they were ten years ago, when being a “checker” was a great job with good benefits. They have taken too many hits and I foresee they will take a few more, even if they can work out a deal. The alternative is to strike. But, if they choose that route, they need to educate their striking members on the importance of standing tall in the face of adversity, regardless of the length of time or the number of customers who will choose, inevitably, to cross the line.

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