Published Oct 13, 2003

Shopping for my weekly groceries at Whole Foods was a nightmare; the store was filled with lost, confused, inconsiderate upper-middle-class women. Of course, it was my fault for shopping on Columbus Day. It was also my fault for shopping at one of the few supermarket chains in Southern California that wasn’t surrounded by a picket line. For, you see, the supermarket checkers, stockers and baggers are on strike

I’m all for this strike. Seems that the supermarkets want to make employees begin contributing to the cost of their own health insurance. Now, this is a very competitive environment for supermarkets, and I’m sympathetic to the big chains’ need to compete with big-box stores like Wal-Mart. But it’s an awful thing to cut health care for workers in marginal positions like these (while skilled butchers make upwards of $20/hour, most employees are in non-skilled blue-collar positions). It’s tough to tell someone making $25,000 a year to pay nearly $1000 to keep the same health insurance they currently have — that’s, in a very real way, a $1000 cut in their annual salary.

And it’s just these marginal workers who need health care the most to keep them in the workforce. Especially for employees making less than $20,000/year, welfare remains very attractive — not least because it comes complete with Medi-Cal, very comprehensive state health-care coverage. And for single parents, the need to secure health coverage for their minor children can be a tremendously compelling reason to seek state or federal aid. Extensive studies of work behavior in lower-income individuals done in Wisconsin in the early ’90s indicated that lack of health care coverage was one of the most major reasons these individuals left the workforce and went on welfare. It’s a simple economic question — why work and take a big risk that you’ll either be healthy or unemployed and broke, when you can stay at home and not have to worry if you get hurt or sick.

I don’t understand how cutting the salary of someone in the bottom few percent of the economic pyramid so that somebody in the top few dozen of a percent can get a better Ralph’s Club deal benefits society as a whole. Seems like we’re best off if everybody has a reasonably-paying job (of course, we wouldn’t have this whole problem if the health care system wasn’t so outrageously expensive).

So, I’m not shopping at Ralph’s until this strike ends. And I’m more than happy to pay a buck or two more on each trip to pick up the slack for the workers. I don’t need extra-low prices on Tropicana orange juice; if I really want to save money, I’ll buy the generic brand. Keep those generic brands cheap so that everyone can afford to eat, cut back a few Ralph’s Club buys so that I pay a dollar or more every week, don’t make employees pay for their health insurance and everything will be fine.


know why they’re to contribute to their own health insurance? to fund the legislation that will keep the retail stores from having to compete with the walmarts that are threatening to come to L.A. read the story here: the workers voted for an increase in union dues… and now they’re being forced to pay for their insurance because the benefits make it too expensive. Sucks, yes, but that’s business.

Wal-Mart’s labor practices are (as mentioned in that article) just awful. Sure it’s “just business,” but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you and me and the society we live in.