Thursday, January 22, 2004

You are probably asking "Mzungu, do talk about anything other than food?" The answer is that of course I think and talk about other things!

For instance: Safeway and a living wage

Our local Safeway is being picketed as part of a nationwide protest about wage negotiations. Safeway and their stores in CA, including Vons, are negotiating work contracts and want to cut benefits and wages. The company claims that they must cut costs to be able to compete with Wal*Mart and other box stores that are getting into the grocery business. Under the present contracts, full time grocery workers get full health benefits and a good wage that increases with years served. Grocery workers who work full-time are part of the middle class. Wal*Mart pays its workers considerably less and offers no paid health benefits for most workers.

I have been discussing this whole issue with my children, my SO, my coworkers, my religious leaders and community, pretty much everyone I'm in contact with.

If my SO and I both worked fulltime at Wal*MArt, we could not live in our current home or our previous home (2 bedrooms for 5 people). We could not afford two cars. We could not afford vacations. Almost one full salary would go toward health insurance.

If Safeway needs to compete with box groceries, why not cut their profit which is considerable instead of the worker's benefits? Why not? Because it is less obvious than raising grocery prices and less painful to the bottom line.

If the workers accept the new contract, even though the current workers retain their benefits and wage levels there are no guarantees that those workers will be kept on the job. What incentive is there to keeping current employees when new workers can be hired for much lower wages and lower benefit costs? Would management really work to edge current employees out? Of course they would; they care about the money not the people and they show that by making this move in the first place. Loss of health beneifts and lowered wage levels drop grocery workers to the edge of poverty.

In many situations I don't think Unions have a role anymmore but then I see situations like this and I think that if the workers didn't have the unions to rally them, living conditions would plummet and industry would treat people like shit.

It is easy for me to stop shopping at Safeway. Within a few miles of my home there are 2 Safeways, 2 Giants, a Sam's, a Shopper's Food Warehouse, and a Super Fresh; just a few more miles away are a Costco and My Organic Market (M.O.M.). The local Wal*MArt does not sell groceries. However, my old neighbourhood (where many people do not have cars) has only two grocery stores within walking distance and they are both Safeways (not very nice stores either! I used to hate sifting through the produce looking for something that wasn't moldy). Even using public transport or a car in the city there are only a handful of grocery stores and the majority are Safeways. There are a few Whole Food markets but they are expensive and an hour by public transport each way. So what choices do these neighbourhoods have?

No comments: