the grocery workers' strike

Before forming an opinion on the issue based solely on a general conservative dislike of unions, read this perspective on the California grocery wqorker strike from Barbara Maynard, the chief spokesperson for UFCW Locals 770 and 1442, the grocery workers unions in the Los Angeles area:

The employer proposal that led to this strike put so little money on the table that, in addition to the premium pickup of $5 to $15 a week, workers� health benefits under their insurance plan would have to be cut 50% (which means that health care costs would be shifted onto the workers outside their insurance plan, meaning out of their own pocket). If the workers want to get the same insurance plan, it would cost them $95 a week or nearly $5,000 a year. THAT IS 25% OF THE AVERAGE WORKER'S SALARY. Is that what "everybody " pays out of pocket on a percentage basis? Hardly....

The fact is that most of these workers � at an average annual gross income of $20,000 � live paycheck to paycheck and earn their healthcare. If the cost to the worker is too high, experience has shown that workers "opt out" of insurance and roll the dice by becoming uninsured.

The bottom line regarding health care is that when a worker lives paycheck to paycheck she can only get her healthcare one of two ways: earn it or get it from the taxpayer. The answer as a taxpayer is clear to me: I would rather people earn their healthcare than get it from me as a taxpayer. What about you?

The companies have proposed to pay all new hires � and the stores have about 1/3 turnover each year, which means that there are a lot of new hires � $3 to $4 an hour less than the current employees. What does this mean? This means that new hires will be making Wal-Mart wages, which means that anybody with kids will be eligible for food stamps and taxpayer subsidized health care...

Barbara's guest-blog at Calpundit is worth reading in full. Also keep in mind that the major grocery store chains are in price collusion :

The pact basically says that if one of the three chains reaps added business during the dispute, it will share some of that money, according to some Wall Street analysts who follow the companies closely.

...."I will acknowledge that there is an agreement, but we're not going to say anything about it," said Gary Rhodes, a spokesman for Cincinnati-based Kroger. "I'm not going to characterize it, nor provide any details about it."

This isn't a case of a union run amuck trying tosqueeze the blood from the employers, though tha certainly is the way it's being spun. But there's a larger issue at stake here, and why again I am proud to be on the unabashed liberal side of the equation:

Productivity gains have made goods increasingly affordable since the Industrial Revolution, but there have been other factors at work too. In the mid-20th century, thanks in part to vigorous unionization, American businesses steadily paid their workers more, thus creating a growing class of people who could afford the products they made. Wal-Mart, by contrast, pays their workers less, which allows them to cut prices and therefore makes their products affordable to more people.

So which is the better and more sustainable model? Increasing the overall affordability of goods by creating a larger class of people who can afford them? Or increasing the overall affordability of goods by squeezing the blue collar workers who make them and thus lowering prices?

Both models work, but one works by building up the working class and the other works by tearing it down. I'll take Door #1.

That's what liberalism is about. Building people up - and they pay society back ten-fold. The only way to characterize the other side is "cheap labor". But cheap labor builds a cheap society, and the benefits to america from a more educated and more affluent working class - ie, a true middle class - are immeasurable and the very foundation of our nations' superpower economy.

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