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Strikes
October 14, 2003 9:14 PM   Subscribe

Labor Unions in a free market. Southern California is being gripped by crippling strikes by transit workers and grocery clerks -- both over health care -- that has stranded thousands of mostly poor commuters across Los Angeles and is expected to sap millions from the local economy.

As a person who can't drive due to a visual disability, I am personally effected by the MTA transit strike (that is rumored may last several months). State employees are not allowed to strike. Shouldn't that also be the case for essential services, such as public transit?
posted by lola (80 comments total)

 
I think anyone should be able to strike at any time.

That being said, I think these unions are off their rockers striking over a few dollars in premiums. Save your political capital for the big fights, not the petty bullshit that's not going to play in the press.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:27 PM on October 14, 2003


I've got two words for all these strikes: single payer.

My wife doesn't currently drive, so I spent an extra 2.5 hours in the car today taking her to work this morning and picking her up again this evening. Needless to say, I am pissed. On the other hand, the MTA machinists have apparently been working without a contract for nearly a year, making the MTA's claims of "they just pulled this on us without warning" somewhat disingenuous.

And the two unstruck supermarkets locking out their workers is lame, too.
posted by Slothrup at 9:33 PM on October 14, 2003


True, but do you really want the people who handle your food (the stuff you fix at home, and not at restaurants where the cooks could be putting their fingers up their butts out of spite) feeling like they can't afford to go get treated for whatever infection they just contracted?
posted by trondant at 9:38 PM on October 14, 2003


This is exactly the kind of mess we get when healthcare is a for-profit industry. The big players who come up with the drugs and treatments have a vested interest in driving costs up. Costs spiral out of control, premiums spike to keep up with it, and boom! Crisis because people can't afford their health insurance.

We got exactly what we set ourselves up for.
posted by beth at 9:41 PM on October 14, 2003


You can't set something in the context of a free market and then call for state action. In a free market unions would have the ability to strike whenever they like, and would be more powerful since a free market would still not imply that the managers would be allowed to employ the strike-busters like they had in the '30s. (They can't bust heads like they used to).

That said, if a state runs an essential service they need to set up an independent arbritration body to decide fair terms of contract, since a body which can pass back-to-work legislation isn't something you can negotiate fairly with.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:47 PM on October 14, 2003


lola, maybe your local lighthouse for the blind has alternate transit options set up? or can lead you to resources?

People have to have the right to strike, even if it inconveniences people. And people who run essential services deserve good pay and benefits considering we put our lives in their hands every day (I want them to be happy on the job).
posted by amberglow at 9:58 PM on October 14, 2003


State employees are not allowed to strike. Shouldn't that also be the case for essential services, such as public transit?

Once upon a time they were the same thing...
posted by Jimbob at 10:15 PM on October 14, 2003


Rising healthcare costs hardly equals "petty bullshit."
posted by scarabic at 10:34 PM on October 14, 2003


Gov't can step in and force workers back to their jobs or face possible termination (PATCO), but they can't or won't insist employers set up decent health care. Where's the justice in that?
posted by LouReedsSon at 10:54 PM on October 14, 2003


I am a public interest lawyer in New York whose union (National Organization of Legal Services Workers) called for a strike that technically started about two hours ago. What are we striking about? Why, healthcare of course.

My situation is not completely analogous to "essential services" such as transit workers, but I would like to point out that legal workers such as myself are considered pretty essential by the low-income people we represent in court every day; people who would otherwise not have access to the legal system at all.

With regard to what we're striking over, I wouldn't agree that rising health care premiums are trivial -- on the contrary, the somewhat better than average benefits are what attract highly qualified people to low paying jobs. When I say low paying, I mean low paying -- the average entry level public interest attorney position in New York starts at somewhere between $35,000 and $45,000. It's a lot lower elsewhere in the country.

If my union capitulates tomorrow at our strike authorization vote, my health care premium goes up anywhere between $55 and $144 a month. For someone making what I'm making, that's a lot of money.

More importantly, as other people have already hinted at, giving in to this represents a significant loss of political power for people like me. I would like to have the financial wherewithal to resist offers from big firms with their $125,000 signing bonuses and to instead represent people that I feel truly need representation. I cannot do that if my expenditures rise unchecked because of our desire to let the invisible hand find an equilibrium in the market for health care.
posted by lassie at 11:06 PM on October 14, 2003


Further to my FPP, here are two quotes from the Los Angeles Times (10/14/03) re the transit and the grocery workers' strike.

MTA - "The biggest issue facing negotiators is the cost of health care. The MTA pays about $533 a worker a month in health insurance costs; the employees' share is no more than $6. The union blames skyrocketing costs for the insolvency of its fund that pays for the insurance and is asking the MTA to contribute more.

The agency has agreed to pay $4 million into the fund to restore it to solvency, an MTA official said, and has offered to raise its monthly insurance payments per worker to at least $634 — up $101. The union has offered to increase members' share of health insurance costs by $71, but says the MTA needs to pay $705 a month to keep health benefits at their current level.

Another major point of contention has been the MTA's insistence that it take over administration of the health fund, which it argues has been poorly managed by the union. Union officials said Tuesday that they would be willing to share control of the fund with the MTA."

"... many of the grocery workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union view the markets' proposal to cut health benefits as a betrayal, a reneging on a deal. Through decades of hard bargaining and strikes, the UFCW in Southern California won what is widely regarded as a Cadillac contract.

Workers pay no premium for full family health insurance — a perk enjoyed by workers at only 4% of large employers nationwide, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent research group not affiliated with managed-care provider Kaiser Permanente.

The benefit is particularly unusual for the retail industry, whose wages and benefits tend to lag behind those of other industries, according to the study's author, Gary Claxton."

In contrast, I work in a law firm, and my medical and dental insurance (HMO) payment for myself and my husband is $239 a month which is $2,868 a year.
posted by lola at 11:34 PM on October 14, 2003


Workers should be allowed to strike at anytime, and employers should be allowed to immediately fire anyone who strikes. I find it ridiculous that in a supposed free-market economy (har!) a small group of malcontents can paralyze a state of some 30 million people. Amazing. Perhaps if the state did not artificially raise the cost of living through so many forms of taxation, 'workers' (bless their noble souls) would be able to pay for their own damn healthcare. Only in Shangri-La, of course. We'll never do that here. We'll just keep raising wages above their actual value, and taxing people more to subsidize the rising cost of goods and services. But its fine because America is fabulously wealthy. Hell, it will be pretty fun for maybe 30 years until it all collapses. That's when a charismatic leader will be needed to rebuild the country and lead the people to salvation.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:37 PM on October 14, 2003


Perhaps if the state did not artificially raise the cost of living through so many forms of taxation,

Very humourous then that the issue is the skyrocketing cost of private health insurance.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:49 PM on October 14, 2003


People have to have the right to strike, even if it inconveniences people.

It's more than inconvenience. I lived through 4 months of no public transit in Vancouver, and the stories I heard then about the hardships this placed on people still make my blood boil. People regularly walked down busy roads not made for pedestrians up to two or more hours each way because they couldn't afford other options. I overheard so many conversations by people who had no idea how they were going to get to work, and saw stories in the news about the sick being unable to reach ongoing treatment appointments. Perhaps the best part was the union's physical harassment of people, myself one of them, who took a private water taxi while the transit ferry they relied on sat quiet in dock.

That's way beyond inconvenience, I'm afraid. It's well into the territory where two groups - the union and the transit authority - held a staring contest at the expense of the public that depended on them.
posted by holycola at 11:49 PM on October 14, 2003


If the public depends on them, then maybe the public should recognize that they're entitled to good benefits and wages.

We've all lived through strikes, and yes, there are hardships. What's the alternative? We could have management that gives employees what they deserve, but we don't. We could have universal healthcare (here in the US), but we don't. We could have fair wage laws, but we don't. Strikes work. They have been important in the past (helping establish all sorts of fairness and labor laws) and still are one of the only ways workers can get what they deserve.
posted by amberglow at 12:00 AM on October 15, 2003


State employees ARE allowed to strike, at least in California. Only public safety employees are not allowed to strike.

Be glad LA isn't Vancouver, though, as there are plenty of municipal operators around. Indeed, the former SCRTD and the current MTA have done an incredible job at devolving the service they used to run up to the 1980's to the munis. Look at Foothill Transit. They didn't even exist in 1985, and today it's the third largest bus carrier in the county. You have LADOT, almost all of which (big bus lines at least) are former RTD lines. Montebello has four out of their eight lines that are basically old RTD lines.

In Vancouver, at the end, the acrimony was high on both sides. The transit agency held board meetings in secret and refused to allow public comment, while union members dumped manure in the yards of board members. I doubt any MTA strike will reach those levels.

And historically, if you look at how transit agencies like Santa Monica were formed, they were formed so that they wouldn't have to be dependent on the big transit operator (in the case of Santa Monica, the Pacific Electric's high prices for the interurban trains), and so LA suburbs have an institutional resistance to being controlled by those interests downtown.
posted by calwatch at 12:05 AM on October 15, 2003


Social Healthcare! Non profit car insurance!
posted by Keyser Soze at 12:10 AM on October 15, 2003


but says the MTA needs to pay $705 a month to keep health benefits at their current level

What the hell plan are they on?! Don't get me wrong, I think they should be covered, but $705 a month is simply ludicrous. It's half that in New York City. Someone's skimming off the top.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:15 AM on October 15, 2003


If the public depends on them, then maybe the public should recognize that they're entitled to good benefits and wages.

God damn right. A little historical perspective would be nice here, in that were it not for striking 'malcontents' and their 'staring contests' we would all be dying of coal-mine emphysima right now. Man, those insensitive children refused to shovel coal into my commuter train.

That being said, it would take a fool not to admit that strikes have lost their effectiveness, especially now that the government can snap their fingers and end a strike (free market, ha!). During the hayday of the labor movement, sympathy strikes added a lotof punch. Can you imaginf if air-traffic controllers were to throw in on a strike? I think that the company losing that much face would show up to the bargaining table with an abundance of good faith.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:22 AM on October 15, 2003


Shouldn't that also be the case for essential services, such as public transit?

That depends on wether they enjoy a government mandated monopoly status.

In a normal free economy, pressures are made against both sides to stop the strike by purchasers who simply find other, better managed or non-unionized, places to buy their services at.

However, in most cities there is only one bus service. If that's because the government decided it would be that way, then clearly working for them means you should have no right to strike, as there are no limits that prevent consumers from losing their service.

All that being said, my personal opinion is that if a government service goes on strike, monthly rebates should be sent to taxpayers to refund them for services not rendered. This creates the buyers pressure, and gives the government a reason to bargain, and takes away any interest the public has in pressuring the government to end the strike early (which could result in a tax hike).
posted by shepd at 12:53 AM on October 15, 2003


of course they should be allowed to strike. maybe you should take some responsibility by voting for decent politicians that can provide health care instead of blaming the people who suffer.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:53 AM on October 15, 2003


Only public safety employees are not allowed to strike.

...which is why Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies staged "sick-outs" this week instead.
posted by jca at 12:59 AM on October 15, 2003


What the hell plan are they on?! Don't get me wrong, I think they should be covered, but $705 a month is simply ludicrous.

It's $705 per current employee. The union is asking for full health coverage for all retirees as well.
posted by 4easypayments at 1:21 AM on October 15, 2003


are not allowed to strike.

There's your problem, of course State employees should be able to strike, so your argument is meaningless.
posted by biffa at 2:59 AM on October 15, 2003


That said, if a state runs an essential service they need to set up an independent arbritration body to decide fair terms of contract, since a body which can pass back-to-work legislation isn't something you can negotiate fairly with.

As has been amply demonstrated in British Columbia.

Here the government first refused to recognize a negotiated settlement that dated back a year or two to a previous government.

They then imposed a new contract on healthcare workers. They refused to negotiate with the union, refused arbitration, and legislated them back to work with a new contract.

Not long after, they refused to live up to the terms that they themselves had imposed!

It has been nothing short of disgusting. It's a government that doesn't respect signed legal agreements, doesn't negotiate, and then doesn't even do what it says it will do.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:10 AM on October 15, 2003


I will not at this point take sides--I lost a career through being on strike--but will say this: when medical costs were fairly inexpensive, management was delighted to offer it up as a fringe benefit. Now, sky high, they cut it our or have cut way back and now ask workers to pick up costs...workers feel they have been had and of course their costs now reflect the high costs of medical coverage.

Thank god for Arnie! I am sure he will make all happy in Calif.
posted by Postroad at 3:16 AM on October 15, 2003


I would love to see this strike spread to some kind of national strike. Healthcare costs are completely out of control. The part-time job that I have recently offered to make me full time. "Hey you get benefits!" Wooofuckinghoo. The only benefit was available insurance that was $800 a month for me and my family. That's about what I would be making. Fuck that. Besides the only difference between my part-time and full time is 4 hours.

It's time we as a people started standing up against the idiocy.
posted by damnitkage at 4:48 AM on October 15, 2003


$705 a month is simply ludicrous

I agree, and I pay more per month ($739). No one's skimming anything, as far as I can tell, I see the monthly statement from Blue Cross, and it's $2002.04 per month for just the two employees that are on the plan.
posted by Oriole Adams at 5:34 AM on October 15, 2003


Seriously, though. Why is it $705 a month per current employee? I have individual health insurance and pay about $125 a month. Of course, my hospital deductible is so high that if I do end up hospitalized (*feverently knocks on wood*) I might as well not even have health insurance, (and I'm also in NC not CA) but still... It seems like if you're on a group plan you'd get lower rates because you're a group rather than a single person. Like a volume discount.

Insurance calculations give me a headache.

Also, I couldn't agree with amberglow more.
posted by jennyb at 6:24 AM on October 15, 2003


"the public should recognize that they're entitled to good benefits and wages."

Good? I don't know about the transit workers, but the grocery clerks who are striking here in SoCal are the highest paid in the industry, and they have the best benefits. Under the new deal they were offered they would continue to be the highest paid and have the best benefits.

This grocery store strike is total bullshit. Striking over something only 4% of contemporaries have? In a down economy? Screw that. I'm crossing the picket lines.

The union is using people's good will towards solidarity and unions as a tool for their own greed. I see no reason to support this strike. In fact I'm offended that sympathies are being played with like this. I know people who are struggling to make ends meet who would jump at an $18/hour job with $15 co-pay for full family health coverage. In fact I haven't ever worked a job that had 100% free health coverage for my whole family. Does anyone here get that?

Another thing this is bringing to my attention is how expensive the union grocery stores are. One of the few options I have other than crossing the picket lines is at the Asian grocery. The prices there are 25-50% less that at the striking stores. I think I'll be doing more shopping there in the future. At least I won't have to worry about being screwed by the corporations *and* the employees.

And the strikers are suggesting I go to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods while the strike lasts? I love those stores, but they are way too expensive for regular shopping. I appreciate the premium brands when I have the need for them, but not every day.

Look, I support unions. I think they are one of the things that keeps people from being treated like animals. Both by employers and government. A world without unions would be a very bad place indeed. But once they take advantage of that they lose my support.

In short - I feel I'm being taken advantage of by the union. They were offered better benefits than anyone else in the industry. Too many people in this country are struggling for a lot less. This strike seems more like spoiled workers than greedy management and I won't support it.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:28 AM on October 15, 2003


Workers should be allowed to strike at anytime, and employers should be allowed to immediately fire anyone who strikes. I find it ridiculous that in a supposed free-market economy (har!) a small group of malcontents can paralyze a state of some 30 million people. Amazing.

insomnyuk, that's an amazing statement of one's complete lack of understanding of the very definition of a labor union and it's intended functions- that being the union's ability to strike in response to the overwhelming authority of their employer. If employers could "immediately fire" anyone who complained about their job there really wouldn't be a need for unions now, would there?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:38 AM on October 15, 2003


'Labor Unions in a free market.' It sounds almost like a question.

Rest assured. Our glorious free market would tear your family apart and make you travel thousands of miles to find work for the sake of its own efficiency if given a fully 'free' hand.

Then you'd know real 'freedom'.
posted by attackthetaxi at 7:42 AM on October 15, 2003


taxi and beth: RIGHT ON.
posted by quonsar at 8:20 AM on October 15, 2003


State employees ARE allowed to strike, at least in California. Only public safety employees are not allowed to strike.

Exactly. Which is why there's a court order preventing the Los Angeles County Sheriffs from organizing any bouts of the "Blue Flu" -- a third and less well-known labor dispute here. Officers working for the county have also been working without a contract for nearly a year, and they want a 3% pay raise.

Ironically, the proceeds of the much-reviled "car tax" pretty much goes directly to local police and fire departments.

Why is it $705 a month per current employee?

Because the union's insurance pays for not only current employees, but also for retirees. This is something of global problem, at least outside the Third World. As population growth has slowed and lifespans have lengthened, the percentage of the population that is retired has steadily grown. Under "pay-as-you-go" systems such as Social Security and medical insurance, these people have to be supported by current workers, and the ratio of workers to retirees has been steadily dropping.

This is exactly the kind of mess we get when healthcare is a for-profit industry.

Between medical insurance, malpractice insurance, liability insurance, the cost of developing and marketing new drugs and the overhead of the torts system, I would say that there are plenty of places to point the finger. But the basic and fundamental problem of modern medicine has nothing to do with any of these.

1. We have the ability to perform amazing medical feats to keep people alive and restore them to reasonably good health.
2. We cannot afford to perform these feats for all members of society.

"For-profit" only exacerbates this problem.
posted by Slothrup at 8:48 AM on October 15, 2003


Here is what I don't understand about the grocery worker strike here in St. Louis.

1) the union bargains jointly with all 3 chains involved
2) the union struck only one of those chains
3) the two other chains then decided to lock out all union employees.

The three supermarket chains that are involved have/had maybe 80-90% of the grocery market here. I can possibly understand how negotiating with the union jointly might be allowed by antitrust laws, but how can they work together on locking out non striking employees without being in collusion? In other words, I thought "solidarity" was llegally allowed workers but not competitors.

hopefully someone that understands this could explain, I really am confused.
posted by jester69 at 9:01 AM on October 15, 2003


If employers could "immediately fire" anyone who complained about their job there really wouldn't be a need for unions now, would there?


Well, on the other hand, if the employees were truly so valuable to their employers that they could not easily be replaced, employers wouldn't be able to fire them, with or without unions.
posted by gyc at 9:07 AM on October 15, 2003


And the strikers are suggesting I go to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods while the strike lasts? I love those stores, but they are way too expensive for regular shopping.

I'd agree on the Whole Foods thing (although I think the quality is worth paying for), but Trader Joe's is cheaper than the major super markets and has great product.
posted by jonah at 9:09 AM on October 15, 2003


"but Trader Joe's is cheaper than the major super markets and has great product."

Huh? It might be cheaper than Von's, but only on specific things. What if I don't need wine and cheese? What if I want soup, toilet paper and oatmeal? If I fill up my cart at Trader Joe's with the same sorts of things I'd buy at Von's, are you really saying it would be cheaper?
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:31 AM on October 15, 2003


If I fill up my cart at Trader Joe's with the same sorts of things I'd buy at Von's, are you really saying it would be cheaper?

Yup .. they don't have the brand names that the big boys have, but the quality is great. Trade Joe's is able to keep their prices down because they have contracts with manufacturers who produce products exclusively for them only. $100 bucks will buy alot of groceries.

OTH, the Whole Foods seems to be more expensive than the chain stores.
posted by lola at 9:45 AM on October 15, 2003


If the public depends on them, then maybe the public should recognize that they're entitled to good benefits and wages.

The public wasn't against what the union was asking for - which was the exclusion of outside contract workers to fill selected positions. This strike wasn't over wages or benefits.

Strikes work.
Do they, amberglow. In Vancouver's case, the union didn't get what it wanted because they were legislated back to work. I find it laughable that you don't even attempt to justify the suffering the union willfully imposed over an obscure job security issue. These workers have health care by default, great extended care benefits, start out around $20+ an hour, get several weeks off per year, and ended up with about $1000 bonus just for coming back to work when the stike was ended by the provincial government. All of this, except the returning bonus, was achieved without striking.

I agree that strikes are a valid mechanism for correcting some serious wrongs that government isn't willing to fix. But face it - the stiking transit workers in Vancouver were not suffering, certainly not like the people who depend on them. The blanket anthem of 'any strike, any time' is disgusting and indefensible, celebrating the manipulation of the public to the gains of a few. What a worker's paradise.
posted by holycola at 9:53 AM on October 15, 2003


XQUZYPHYR, the statement you made doesn't line up with reality: 'If employers could "immediately fire" anyone who complained about their job there really wouldn't be a need for unions now, would there?'

One of the reasons unions exist is to negotiate layoffs and firings, it is because of the unions that employers can't immediately fire people, and from your perspective, if employers could fire people 'immediately,' then unions certainly would be needed. I guess I don't need to answer your incoherent question then.

Rest assured. Our glorious free market would tear your family apart and make you travel thousands of miles to find work for the sake of its own efficiency if given a fully 'free' hand.

Then you'd know real 'freedom'.


What a popular and disgusting lie. Yes, NAFTA, that little free trade agreement we made with Mexico, certainly created a giant sucking sound here in the states didn't it Ross? I mean, our economy just went straight down the tubes and the noble American proletariat was ruined. Yeah, that freedom sure ain't worth it.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:01 AM on October 15, 2003


holycola: Amberglow didnt say all strikes work, there's plenty of evidence that they don't, but some do, and maintaining the option of withdrawing labour is fundamental to ensuring the rights of workers. They shouldn't be a first option, but they need to be available as a last resort.
posted by biffa at 10:04 AM on October 15, 2003


insomnyuk: Having a free trade treaty is not the same thing as having a completely free market. NAFTA acts to apply a specific form of regulation in specific areas, more specifically, it lays down limits on what other regulation is allowed in order to remove economic inefficiencies from the trading environment. In a truly free market there would be no need for NAFTA. (And while I have no views on NAFTA, I agree with XQUZYPHYR that a truly free market would be a horror show)
posted by biffa at 10:11 AM on October 15, 2003


"$100 bucks will buy alot of groceries."

Well, okay. I think you're full of crap, but we'll put it to the test and I'll report back.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:17 AM on October 15, 2003


One of the reasons unions exist is to negotiate layoffs and firings, it is because of the unions that employers can't immediately fire people, and from your perspective, if employers could fire people 'immediately,' then unions certainly would be needed. I guess I don't need to answer your incoherent question then.

Huh? Employers of non-unionized labor, be it Wall-Mart or the illegal gardeners they picked up by truck this morning, can fire employees at whim, with no risk of reprecussion. Your argument was that "Workers should be allowed to strike at anytime, and employers should be allowed to immediately fire anyone who strikes." If that's your argument, then what purpose do you see in a union? Better organization of complaints that companies can just ignore?

What are you babbling about "my perspective?" It's not "my" perspective, it's basic labor law: union laws prevent employers from firing employees at random, along with guaranteesing worker benefits and improving the quality of the workplace.

Instead, you responded to my first quote by saying that, let's use your own quotes here:

1. it is because of the unions that employers can't immediately fire people
2. from your perspective, if employers could fire people 'immediately,' then unions certainly would be needed

So you admit that unions prevent wanton firings, and then tell me that I think a lack of unions would mean a lack of prevention of firings. Golly, I guess "making perfect sense" is my perspective, insomnyuk. Perhaps you wouldn't have found my comment so "incoherent" if you weren't spending so much time deliberately trying to be snotty to everyone in the thread.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:22 AM on October 15, 2003


Footnote: When you add the costs of medical insurance &c to the tax load of the American worker, you end up seeing a figure that is as high, or higher, than that paid by Canadians. And while there's no doubt there are some health care issues in Canada, it's a whole lot better than the for-profit mess down in the USA.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:37 AM on October 15, 2003


insomnyuk, the general idea behind my original comment should be quite clear: a completely unfettered free market does not care about anything but its own overall efficiency. It simply demands that all things, in the end, be bought, sold, and shifted around to meet its own needs. Including you, whether you'd like that or not.

If you're not currently in the way of its realignments and re-balancings, you can afford to call me 'Ross'. If you are, you might well end up in this situation, perhaps. I'm sure you have some real choice insults for these guys and their families. Because, these workers TOTALLY deserved to lose their jobs, in theory. And theory is just way cooler than ugly-ass reality.
posted by attackthetaxi at 10:50 AM on October 15, 2003


I should have clarified...even the threat of a strike is often enough to send everyone back to the bargaining table to work out differences, so it works whether there is a strike or not, and what biffa said. I don't know about the vancouver situation, but all the strikes that have affected me here in ny have been over wages, benefits, and/or working conditions--people in unions don't take strikes lightly at all. Going on strike is very hard on the workers and their families too--not just the public--and is always a last resort.
(I'll admit i'm biased in favor of unions, being the grandson of a subway employee, and the son/stepson of a teacher and fireman--I've learned firsthand the benefits of unions, and the hardships of striking.)
posted by amberglow at 10:54 AM on October 15, 2003


As population growth has slowed and lifespans have lengthened, the percentage of the population that is retired has steadily grown. Under "pay-as-you-go" systems such as Social Security and medical insurance, these people have to be supported by current workers, and the ratio of workers to retirees has been steadily dropping.

We are so going to be fucked when the baby boomers retire. Just you wait.

1. We have the ability to perform amazing medical feats to keep people alive and restore them to reasonably good health.
2. We cannot afford to perform these feats for all members of society.


I work at a nursing home, and I see stuff done every day to keep people alive who are completely gone, mentally. I'm talking no ability to understand anything or communicate anything, no ability to recognize their loved ones, nothing. Sometimes we're spending money and not getting a return-to-reasonably-good-health in return. Sometimes we're just prolonging death.

In the current malpractice environment, expensive tests that may not really be required are run anyway, just so the doctor can cover her / his ass (and you can't really blame them).

And of course we have the lovely pharmaceutical industry, peddling its patented wares on the tv everywhere you look. We can't afford what we're paying for now (and there's lots of waste in the system), just imagine what it's going to be like in five years, or ten years down the road.

And as for the medical coverage for retirees - I thought that's what medicare was for...

They were offered better benefits than anyone else in the industry. Too many people in this country are struggling for a lot less. This strike seems more like spoiled workers than greedy management and I won't support it.

I'm right there with you, y6y6y6. They've had a good ride til now not paying any medical premiums whatsoever, and what with rising costs, it's only fair that they should start paying just like the rest of us (who also work hard).
posted by beth at 11:24 AM on October 15, 2003


What if I don't need wine and cheese? What if I want soup, toilet paper and oatmeal?

Soup and oatmeal, yes, toilet paper, maybe, maybe not. Veggies, meat, bread, frozen stuff (especially shrimp) tend to be a little better quality and cheaper. My personal shopping habits have shown that you can generally get more for less at Trader Joe's.

It's definitely not just for wine, cheese and nuts anymore. They have much less selection for household items than supermarkets though. Sorry to derail the thread a bit.
posted by jonah at 12:03 PM on October 15, 2003


Okay, back from shopping.

The closest Trader Joe's to me is about 20 miles away. But it has a Ralph's right next to it, so that made for some easy comparison shopping. Here was the list of items I needed to pick up today:

Coke and Diet Coke, chunky peanut butter, clumping cat litter, meat and cheese for sandwiches, golden delicious apples, cucumber, milk, Halloween candy, and lasagna noodles.

The results:

No Coke or Diet Coke at TJ's. They had other sodas, but they were the same price as Ralph's. I decided to go without. They had that gross "natural" peanut butter, but it cost a bit more. I'll try it anyway. No cat litter of any type. I guess we'll go to Target for that. Cheese and lunch meats were more expensive. I decided to go without. No golden delicious apples (huh??!!), but they did have some other apples for twice the price as Ralph's. I bought some, but those are some pricey damned apples. Milk I could find, but it was the same price as Ralph's. No cucumbers available. They have 8 types of soy beans, but no cucumbers. Also no Halloween candy. And strangely, no lasagna noodles.

So I saved lots of money, but only because I couldn't buy anything. And other than the milk, the stuff I did buy wasn't what I wanted.

Please advise. What am I doing wrong here?
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:09 PM on October 15, 2003


Comparing my shopping list to yours:

Coke and Diet Coke: I don't buy soda, and it's a loss leader at most supermarkets so you win there. I do buy the four packs of sparkling water which are cheaper at TJ's ($1.29) than other places.

chunky peanut butter: Not something I buy either, I do buy mustard though and that tends to be more at TJs, but I like it better than the French's

clumping cat litter: Household items are pretty limited at TJs and cost more there anyway, I like Target for this stuff

meat and cheese for sandwiches: I don't buy pre sliced meat generally, I have bought TJ's cooked chicken and turkey breasts and sliced them for sandwiches, pretty good and comparable to getting deli sliced meat from the meat counter.

golden delicious apples: I noticed last night that the TJs by me was totally wiped out in the produce section, the workers said that they were running out of stock of most pershables because of the strikes.

cucumber: Suprised you couldn't find this either, probably would be a little more than the supermarket, I've found. I've also found that supermarket cukes are completely tastless.

milk: I usually stick to rice milk, which is cheaper at TJs than at the market. When I did buy milk at TJs it seemed like it was about the same price.

Halloween candy: Got me there

lasagna noodles: really suprised you couldn't find this, did you ask someone? I've bought all kinds of pasta at TJs and it tends to be cheap, like it is everywhere. They have good gnocci too.

I can't really argue if you're spending more at TJs than super markets, but for my shopping, I still find more value there.
posted by jonah at 12:33 PM on October 15, 2003


All I can say is that I can't wait until Wal-Mart starts selling groceries here in SoCal. It seems to me the main result of the clerk's union will be driving away customers who will be happy to stay with other options. I guess we'll see how they like trying to get free health care from other employers. This strike is going to lead to fewer union jobs.

Why would I shop at Ralph's, Vons, or Albertson's ever again? I'm going to look for other options. Screw the lot of 'em.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:47 PM on October 15, 2003


What's really going to be interesting is when Walmart and Target start selling groceries in California. [Dammit y6, stop with the psychic hooha!] And Walmart - well, I know enough of what they put some of their workers through to support a strike there. I admit, I'm biased - these workers have better benefits than my mother did for some of the 30 years she taught in the public schools. Meanwhile the people I really feel for are the ones without cars who have to figure out a way to get to work - and then have to worry about how to get food from the nearest grocery store. They're the ones that are hurting the most.

If anyone can help me with a link on this - I'm trying to find out
1) what benefits/pay per hour school teachers, police/fire, mail carriers, city hall workers, etc. is typical in California
2) what the benefits/pay per hour are for grocery workers on the east coast.

I'm new to CA and trying to get some perspective here. No luck on that info with the web searches I've done so far...
posted by batgrlHG at 12:50 PM on October 15, 2003


Going on strike is very hard on the workers and their families too--not just the public--and is always a last resort.

I believe that strikes can be very hard on families - strike pay is usually tokenary, but I'm still not clear on how it is the right of a union to halt a public service at will and at the expense of the people it serves. What kind of human rights framework allows a huge number of people to suffer in the service of a group that strikes?

Just so I'm clear, amberglow, are you are saying that the public should just suck it up, and not have a choice, even when the refusal to work and the legal protection against being fire en masse causes public health problems? If that's what you're saying, then that attitude is just as elitist as any Enron robber-baron. I wonder where the pro-strike sentiment would fall if your bank went on strike and you couldn't get your money out.
posted by holycola at 1:30 PM on October 15, 2003


Just so I'm clear, amberglow, are you are saying that the public should just suck it up, and not have a choice, even when the refusal to work and the legal protection against being fire en masse causes public health problems?

Yup. And how is my attitude elitist?
Whatever public health problems ensue from a strike affect the strikers and their families too.
posted by amberglow at 1:50 PM on October 15, 2003


I think it's pretty elitist to be more worried about your inconvenience than other people getting a living wage or decent health benefits, especially when they perform a vital service for you, everyday, around the clock.
posted by amberglow at 2:04 PM on October 15, 2003


Perhaps if the state did not artificially raise the cost of living through so many forms of taxation, 'workers' (bless their noble souls) would be able to pay for their own damn healthcare.

Unlikely on even $8/hr (much less minimum wage). Taxation on people in this bracket is already pretty minimal, and unless you have some kind of subsidization (say, school or employer provided health plan), health care is nigh unaffordable. I speak as a person who's tried doing it that way in the last two years.
posted by weston at 2:11 PM on October 15, 2003


Now that amberglow has answered, I'd like to chime in too re: I'm still not clear on how it is the right of a union to halt a public service at will and at the expense of the people it serves.

Union membership is made up of employees, not indentured servants or slaves. You can expect a union to fight for its members. That is its bottom line.

Invoking 'human rights frameworks' is just wild. Yes, I'm afraid we'll need a war crimes tribunal after this strike. It was just that awful. As for the 'elitist' charge, it makes no sense whatsoever. 'Those eveel blue collar dudes are lording it over us again, it's a conspiracy'?? I don't get it.
posted by attackthetaxi at 2:26 PM on October 15, 2003


"I think it's pretty elitist to be more worried about your inconvenience than other people getting a living wage or decent health benefits"

What if I'm worried about my inconvenience after doing some research and finding out that the strikers were offered great pay and benefits? Am I still being elitist at that point?
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:41 PM on October 15, 2003


What if I'm worried about my inconvenience after doing some research and finding out that the strikers were offered great pay and benefits? Am I still being elitist at that point?
nope...unions bargain and compromise all of the time, as management does. If the union is truly being greedy and grasping, then the members should vote down a strike, or vote to accept the offer, as they often do. There really aren't that many strikes here in the US, especially compared to Europe. semi-on-topic: We recently found out here that our mta had 2 sets of books, but raised our fares to 2 bucks a ride anyway. I'm inclined not to believe what they say when dealing with their workers, since they lied to their customers and the city/state about their financial condition.
posted by amberglow at 2:52 PM on October 15, 2003


Ok, someone out of state mentioned to me that they had heard there were issues about length of overtime - and if so the unions are sucking mightily in getting this issue across. I've heard nothing but insurance as the reason for the strike.

I appreciate the discussion here about the issue, but I'm still looking for some concrete facts. Otherwise I'm not seeing much to do besides cross that picketline. Anyone want to help by giving me/helping me find some facts in the CA so I won't do that? I judge each strike separately - I like to check the issues, what both sides are saying, make my own decision. But I'm having problems finding answers.

Are CA workers making more money than the norm? Are they getting shafted in their insurance deal or are they average with the rest of the state? I'm new to this state and still trying to find a source on this. Why can't I find a media source who's done some investigative journalism?
posted by batgrlHG at 3:37 PM on October 15, 2003


(off-topic) i gotta second the recommendation of Trader Joe's, at least for packaged foods. their produce is kinda weak (farmers' markets are my best bet for fresh fruits and vegetables), but almost anything you can buy in a can or box is cheaper at TJs than Safeway (although there's certainly lots less to choose from). they also seem to treat their employees *reasonably* well (while paying them crap wages).

also, that "natural" peanut butter is a lot better for you. the commercial stuff is *loaded* with sugar.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:52 PM on October 15, 2003


batgrlHG: the pdf from the union press release (click on facts and figures) has some comparative national figures but not much.
posted by amberglow at 4:22 PM on October 15, 2003


think it's pretty elitist to be more worried about your inconvenience than other people getting a living wage or decent health benefits

Read again, amberglow. In the Vancouver case things went way beyond an 'inconvenience' and they were already getting 3x a living wage and great health benefits. How do you classify thousands of people not being able to get to work or ongoing medical treatment with the same word someone might use to describe... oh I don't know, the bus being a bit late. The latter is an inconvenience, the other a major issue for a region, an issue foisted on the region by a group who can't negotiate a settlement with their employer and decide like big bawling babies to hurl their tantrum onto those who can't fight back. Real classy.

Union membership is made up of employees, not indentured servants or slaves.

I totally agree, and that's why I think this: if you take a job in the public service, you forfeit your right to a protected strike. If you strike, you lose the job. Take action in slowdowns (that would be inconvenience, amberglow), go to the press and embarass the employer, do an advertising blitz to win over public sentiment. But for christ sake do not bootfuck people who have no other means of getting around by taking away their link to work and health care and life in general.

One last thing: to argue for the right of a minority to freeze up a public service and impose hardship on the masses is not only elitist, it's downright savage.
posted by holycola at 6:47 PM on October 15, 2003


Invoking 'human rights frameworks' is just wild. Yes, I'm afraid we'll need a war crimes tribunal after this strike.

Pardon your sarcasm. Since there was so much about rights being argued here I thought it would be fair game to put it up to scrutiny. But since you're full of wisdom why don't you answer the question - why is it ok for a minority to impose hardship on a majority in its own selfish interests? We've heard lots about the universal right to strike, so it must be a human right. I'm arguing that it's not, so why don't you cozy up to the keyboard and prove me wrong.
posted by holycola at 6:52 PM on October 15, 2003


"the pdf from the union press release (click on facts and figures) has some comparative national figures but not much"

Unfortunately there are no citations for any of the facts listed there for me to check, so I don't quite know what to think of that. And I think they're really underestimating Walmart when they say "Walmart would control only 1 percent of the market" at the end of that document. But then I've lived in several towns where a Walmart supercenter was built and seen other grocers go out of business. To act like it's not going to effect the other grocers seems a bit, well, strange. Unions in other states have had problems with Walmart and never simply dismissed the threat.

But thanks for the link. I've been trying all day to find out more about the issue and can't seem to get the facts I'm looking for... So far I haven't crossed the picket line, but frankly all the other places we've tried just don't have what I need on my grocery list.
posted by batgrlHG at 7:31 PM on October 15, 2003


"also, that "natural" peanut butter is a lot better for you. the commercial stuff is *loaded* with sugar."

Hello, I am very evil - I want my peanut butter with lots of sugar. I adore Jif. I also drink Coke, with all the sugar and caffeine. And I've been known to eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese just to savor the fake orange cheesy goodness. I also consume vast quantities of chocolate and other candy over the course of a year.
Sadly, Trader Joes does not meet my needs.
I am now prepared to be scorned and shunned, and submit to this humbly.
*attempts not to giggle*
posted by batgrlHG at 7:37 PM on October 15, 2003


holycola, so why did they strike in Vancouver? (It may help if you told us, or gave us a link) Here in the US, I've never heard of a union member getting 3x any kind of living wage unless they work double or triple shifts a lot. Most union jobs here are low-paid (a lot of the higher-paying ones have gone overseas).

and batgrl, here's a link to alternate stores for food shopping (this is from one of the union local sites, but you can get to your area from there i think)
posted by amberglow at 8:19 PM on October 15, 2003


this list is probably more helpful : >
posted by amberglow at 8:21 PM on October 15, 2003


I was just emailed by a guy walking the picket lines out there...he asked if I could post this: an analysis of what the employers want to change and what it means.

In addition, he says he earns far less than the reported $18 an hour and that very few people actually make that rate, which is the absolute top salary per hour. He's also open to answering any requests for more info we have. : >
posted by amberglow at 10:07 PM on October 15, 2003


Here is some information about the Vancouver strike.

As for food, don't forget the ethnic supermarkets. Around where I live, there are no Ralphs, Albertsons, or Vons. Instead, we have a whole host of Chinese and Mexican supermarkets. The Chinese supermarkets have incredibly cheap produce, while the Mexican supermarkets do well on fruits and cereals, as well as general groceries. There's a whole strip of Colima Rd. in Rowland Heights where all the moribund American supermarkets (Alpha Beta, Vons, and Albertsons) closed down and were replaced by Chinese and Korean markets.
posted by calwatch at 10:59 PM on October 15, 2003


why is it ok for a minority to impose hardship on a majority in its own selfish interests?

why is it ok for a minority to extract profits at the expense of the majority in its own selfish interests?

WRT public employees, I have no knowledge of the Vancouver issue, but as a general rule working in the public sector is different.

Politicians, and not CEOs, ultimately determine how much money is allocated. If the only options to cover the costs of providing a public service are what do you honestly think a politician of any party is going to opt for?
posted by trondant at 11:26 PM on October 15, 2003


holycola, I apologize for the sarcasm. It was unwarranted.

However, I doubt I ever would've argued that potential strikers need their nascent job action to be viewed as 'OK' by the majority in order to strike. Strikes are, by their very nature, pure brinksmanship (designed to force negotiation). Nobody (or very few) would say 'Yeah, 4 month strikes totally rock!!!'.

And yes, the minority is technically being selfish by striking. It doesn't for a moment convince me that public sector strikes such as transportation should be made illegal to suit the majority's wishes. Some of the point of the exercise is to cause the people who rely on the service in question pain so that (maybe) they'll think twice before thinking it a commodity. So no, it's not justifiable by the majority...but the majority's concerns, when good-faith negotiations with management break down, must be put aside temporarily.

In other words, strikes can really cause a lot of damage, but they are an essential option, regardless of your disapproval. So I'm sorry about the previous sarcasm, but for workers it comes down to dollars and cents, and many times nobody's going to just hand over the cash. Sometimes you have to fight for it. That is all.
posted by attackthetaxi at 1:13 AM on October 16, 2003


Thanks for the alternate shopping list, amberglow - that helps. My issue is that the unions need to convince me that I don't want to cross that line by more than just blocking my way with picketers. In order to go out of my way and travel to more than one store to get everything on my list, I'm going to have to want to help these people. But I don't believe either side just because they tell me so - I want to see citations, I want examples, I want quotes from either side telling me what the cause of the strike is. See, here's my problem. I'm not going to believe everything posted on a union site. Just like I'm not going to believe everything posted on the company site. That's all subject to spin, and I've already been disappointed with the pdf file at that union site that didn't give any citations - just "analysts say." Which doesn't mean anything unless I know who the analysts are. (It also basically says that Walmart isn't a threat - which hasn't been the case in any of the other places I've lived.) I'm looking for media resources - and not just what one paper says. But I'm not finding much out there giving me specifics.

That union link gives me articles it's picked out of a larger document as and then interprets them for me. I'd feel a bit better about the site if it provided a link to the entire unedited document. (Is there one? I might have just missed it.) Under HEALTH CARE is a series of statements "you could be responsible for x payment" - well, what is the corporations rebuttal for that? Who's to say that this wasn't under negotiation and could have been negotiated further without a strike?

I don't want any one spin on this, I want both views, and I want to weigh the arguments and make an informed decision. So far the news articles I've found regurgitate the same facts. Hopefully that will change.

But you know, I'm getting frustrated enough with BOTH sides that I'm thinking from now on I shop at Target and the local asian markets. Especially if this drags on for more than a week or two. I may never go back. I think the local asian markets deserve my business more. I bet their workers could use the money too.

BTW I've never had dental or vision or preventative visits covered in any job I've ever worked on. But then maybe I need to give up looking for a job teaching college and look into other work. Only I can't find anyone that thinks their health benefits aren't crappy. (Someone remind me why we didn't want to try to solve this problem nationally? It was impossible or something, right?)

Here's something maybe someone in another state can help with. From the union site:

"At the proposed contribution rate, there would be no future benefits earned – whatever you have earned today is all you would get. Thirty years of full time service would no longer guarantee a $1,900 monthly benefit."

What retirement benefits are given by grocery stores in other states? Seriously, how can I judge what a good or bad deal the workers here seem to have if I have no basis for comparison?

Also - a lawyer friend pointed out that in many states school teachers aren't allowed to strike.
posted by batgrlHG at 1:56 AM on October 16, 2003


"He's also open to answering any requests for more info we have."

Tell him I've read through the document from the union you linked and taking that, along with everything else I've been able to find, into consideration I think the strikers are being very spoiled. In addition I think it's wrong to strike for things like this when no one else has them.

Also tell him that I think unions are a bedrock of what makes America great, and I'm personally insulted that he's using that sympathy for something this stupid. Tell him I'll be crossing the picket lines until the strike is over, and then I'll be going to other stores for my groceries.

Tell him to come back to the real world. It would be nice if store clerks could get great wages and some of the best health benefits in the country. But that's not realistic. The economy sucks and health insurance costs are rising out of control. This is the world the rest of us have to work in.

After researching the issue I'm left with nothing but scorn for the strikers. Shame on him. Please tell him that.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:40 AM on October 16, 2003


He's reading the thread, so I guess he'll email me again later today...
y6: If the supermarket workers are already getting benefits and decent (for them) wages, why should they have to give any of them up, and new hires get much less, especially if profits are way up at the stores? These are immensely profitable supermarket chains, and they're not negotiating in good faith. I would also think the profits these stores are enjoying are at least in part because of the good service from the employees.

Thanks for the Vancouver info...from there and other places, it seems to me that one or both of the parties was not willing to negotiate in good faith, and it eventually went to the government. Here, since our last transit strike our city/state government usually steps in immediately at the threat of a strike to public services and demands negotiation and mediation, and doesn't let talks stop. Maybe the Vancouver government should have stepped in right away?

batgrl: according to this (which has citations), 24 states prohibit strikes entirely by teachers, other states either permit them, or impose fines and other penalties if they occur. I still can't find a comparative list like that for supermarket people...
posted by amberglow at 7:32 AM on October 16, 2003


amberglow - As I've said, I've done my research. It's obvious we will disagree over this. I see this as the companies and the strikers having a pissing match to see who can be the most greedy.

Meanwhile I (someone who was has never crossed a picket line before) am unable to find a place to buy groceries without going to three different places. And for what? So that store clerks can keep health care benefits that everyone thinks are outrageous? So that they can continue making more than the job is worth? This makes me pissed at the grocery monopoly that has grown up around me. And then I look at the strikers picketing over an offer to pay them double the minimum wage for a minimum wage job. Which makes me pissed as well.

Look, I worked in the service industry for a long time. I've worked in a grocery store, both bagging and checking. It's an entry level job. God bless the union for trying to make it more than that, but it smells like bullshit to me.

So screw Ralph's/Vons/Abertson's with their high prices, and screw their spoiled employees as well. I'll find other markets.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:58 AM on October 16, 2003


y6 - why should one group who has good benefits agree to allow them to be eroded? That's what this boils down to. I say more power to them - if more people stood up and caused problems, then maybe we could all get good benefits.
posted by Irontom at 10:49 AM on October 16, 2003


Sure, more power to them. If they can get better benefits than anyone else, then go for it. But they're asking me to help with their greedy quest, and I don't see why I should help.

"then maybe we could all get good benefits."

Let's help the poor first. Then we can go back and help overpaid store clerks. Okay?
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:08 PM on October 16, 2003


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