Saturday, August 20, 2011

Another Grocery Strike

Grocery workers in San Diego, and the surrounding region, are voting on whether or not to strike against the three largest grocery stores in the area after several months of unsuccessful negotiations. The disagreement is over health care benefit; workers want to continue to receive them at no cost, and the store chains say that health care costs have increased so much in the past eight years, particularly in the last two, that they need for the workers to share the cost.

I usually side with the workers in these issues, but it’s pretty hard for me to do that in this case. For one thing, our employer-furnished health insurance premiums have increased by 62.5% in the past two years, and I’m not sympathetic with those who have had no cost increase in eight years and insist on that continuing. That is slightly selfish thinking, but…

In a more socially-centered vein, talking about striking in a city which is experiencing 9.8% 10.5% unemployment seems like rather poor judgement to me, especially when the strike is over a mere $92 per month for health insurance. Those who are unemployed have no health insurance at all, and plenty of people who are presently employed would be delighted to obtain full coverage health insurance for a mere $92 per month.

Suppose they strike and win, the employers give in and continue free health insurance. For a five year contract, that would save a worker $5520 total, but a 10 week strike would cost him/her that much in wages. The last strike lasted almost twice that long, there is no guarantee of the workers winning, and they will be without health insurance during the strike.

The workers use phrases like, “it isn’t fair to charge us when they are making all those billions in profit.” Actually, two of the three chains make less than one billion in annual profit, and none of them make usurious profit margins. Safeway makes $948 million and sees 2.14% profit, Abertson’s $296 million and 1.45% profit, and the largest, Kroger, makes $2.7 billion and 2.45% profit. Would you, as an entrepreneur, be happy buying something for 98¢ and selling it for $1.00? No, I didn’t think so.

It’s interesting that two years after passage of the “Affordable Care Act,” hailed as the “greatest liberal legislation in generations,” this strike is pending specifically over the cost for provision of health care going forward.

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