Ralph Nader Praises “Courage and Persistence” of Striking Southland Grocery Workers Criticizes corporate tactic of shifting health costs to workers as part of a domestic race to the bottom

Contact: Ralph Nader, (202) 387.8034

Washington, DC – February 16, 2004 – Today, Consumer Advocate Ralph

Nader sent a letter of support to striking southland grocery workers, care of Douglas H. Dority, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

The text of the letter follows.

_______________________________________________________________________

Striking Southland Supermarket Workers
Care of Douglas H. Dority
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
1775 K St. NW
Washington, DC 20006
February 16, 2004

To the Striking Southland Supermarket Workers,

I applaud the thousands of grocery employees in Southern california who are standing up for all workers against all too familiar examples of corporate abuse.

For more than 16 weeks, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers have endured extraordinary hardships to fight yet another effort by corporations to break the back of organized labor and diminish its role as standard setter and standard bearer for all working people.

Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons have used hard-boiled tactics, including selective lockouts and refusal to negotiate in good faith, while sharing profits among closed and opened stores. In contrast, the Taft-Hartley Act prohibits secondary boycotts by labor that could challenge this profit-sharing and force management to negotiate.

Management has locked out employees and used media dollars to convince inconvenienced consumers that this struggle is for a tiny financial gain on the part of greedy strikers.

The truth could not be more different.

We often hear the term ìrace to the bottomî in the context of world trade as corporations pit one country against another to seek lower and lower standards for labor and the environment as concessions for access to jobs. The Southland strike, standing 70,000 workers strong at nearly 900 stores from San Diego to Santa Barbara, is a graphic reaction to a race to the bottom in our own country. This race to the bottom demands a two-tier worker class with new workers (except for executives) shoved downward in wages and benefits – a corporate position that takes these workers backwards into the future. It weaves together several anti-labor tactics now prevalent in corporate Americaís arsenal of union-busting.

Increasing costs for health care, present and prospective, are shifted to workers. The Wall Street Journal found this a common corporate tactic. Challenging price gouging and billing fraud are not given much attention. To enhance profits, corporations shifted health costs to employees and retirees, and, ultimately, to people with health insurance. Among all industrialized countries, only the United States creates this opportunity for corporate squeeze; other industrialized countries provide freestanding and universal healthcare that is not conditioned on negotiated labor contracts or employee status at single companies within an industry. Why doesnít management press for national single-payer health care to level the playing field it views as so ìanticompetitiveî?

Management would create a two-tiered healthcare system to divide new hires from current hires with extra and increasing financial burdens on new hires. This divide-and-conquer downward approach – coupled with lockouts – destroys the Unionís ability to speak with one voice for organized labor and to assist non-unionized workers to improve their benefit status.

Both of these tactics erode the living wages of workers at the same time that companies boast about increasing productivity. New costs burden already inadequate wages, absent a legislatively mandated ìliving wage.î Again, we all pay for public relief to make up part of the difference.

Why are elected officials so removed from the front lines of this battle for the dignity and daily livelihood of Americaís workers? The courage and persistence of these workers and their allies demonstrate that universal health care through a single payer system, a living wage and repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act must be among Americaís highest priorities. Americaís workplace should not join those in the developing world in their tragic race to the bottom.

The Southlandís grocery workers are standing tall for all of us. Unless they prevail, more Americans sooner will find themselves in the same predicament. I stand with them.

Sincerely,

Ralph Nader
PO Box 19312
Washington DC 20036

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