Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Shop 'Til Workers Drop: The Specter of Wal-Mart

Strikes Spread. AFL-CIO Issues Report on Wal-Mart Health Care Abuse

Los Angeles isn't the only city where grocery workers are on strike (or being locked out) and Wal-Mart is being blamed
Officials at Kroger and the nation's other dominant supermarket chains -- Ahold, Albertsons and Safeway -- cite competition from Wal-Mart Stores and other box stores moving into the grocery business as a reason to hold the line on labor costs.

Those costs include health care benefits that are the sticking point in United Food and Commercial Workers union strikes of 3,300 workers at 44 Kroger stores in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio; 70,000 workers at three Southern California chains; and 10,000 workers at three chains in Missouri.
And it's not good for workers' health either:
At the Cross Lanes Kroger, striking UFCW workers say Wal-Mart's opening five years ago cost their store $100,000 in weekly receipts, between a third and a half of the store's income.

In response, workers say, Kroger has slashed the store's payroll from 86 to 45 full- and part-time workers.

"All we hear from management is, 'Do more,' " said Kay Underwood, 49, a 29-year Kroger employee. "We did an employee survey, and the number of us on Paxil, Prozac, blood pressure medicines -- you name it -- has gone sky-high. We're killing ourselves for this company."
Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO has just released a study on "Wal-Mart's Race to the Bottom on Health Coverage"
As 70,000 grocery store workers are on strike to keep affordable health care, Wal-Mart’s role as the force driving the race to the bottom in health care benefits has risen to center stage. “The grocery store workers striking with the UFCW are taking a stand for all American working families who are being squeezed beyond their limits by our broken and inadequate health care system,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “As Wal-Mart continues to leech off communities, forcing taxpayers and workers to pick up health care costs, it does tremendous damage as it drives other companies to do the same.” While historically providing good health benefits to their employees, the supermarkets now argue that they must shift greater costs onto workers in order to counter the cutthroat competition they face from Wal-Mart.
I've written several pieces on Wal-Mart and the grocery strikes (see below), and you can also find more comprehensive information on these strikes as well as other retail store strikes and organizing campaigns at You Are Worth More, a webpage created by UFCW Local 789.

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