Support the Supermarket Striker’s Boycott, and Tell a Friend!
By Ryan Masaaki Yokota
As the supermarket strike at Vons and Albertsons continues into its eighth week, the time is now to continue to step up the support of the striking supermarket workers, and send a message that the issues of health care are important issues not just for supermarket workers, but for all Californians as well.
In many ways, my support for the strikers comes from my intimate knowledge of the often difficult conditions in which they work. When I was 16, one of my earliest jobs was to work at a neighborhood Alpha Beta supermarket, a chain that was swallowed up years later in subsequent buyouts and mergers in the early 90’s. Working part-time during the school year, and later, even longer hours during the summer, I took all the worst shifts, oftentimes working holidays and night shifts as I tried to save my minimum wage income for college. During that time, I pushed shopping carts, bagged groceries, go-backed goods (i.e. returned unwanted goods back to the shelves), and compacted cardboard boxes. Through the year that I worked there, I got to know all of the people that worked there pretty well. Most of the people were either young students like myself, other young adults, married folks supporting their families, and even elderly people working to earn a living. The store even hired people with disabilities, giving them a meaningful occupation and opportunity to succeed. In a way, the supermarket had a very inclusive sense of family to me, consisting of all ages, races, and creeds.
Yet despite the positive aspects that I remember from those days, there were many problems related to the health issues that we faced. Many of the check stand workers were elderly women, who had to lift heavy grocery items to be scanned. Because of the repetitive lifting that this involved, many of the women suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, and had to wear arm braces to ameliorate the pain. Others who worked in restocking or in the meat, poultry, or deli sections had to be careful so as not to cut themselves on box cutters or meat slicing machines. In the back of the store, employees had to receive special training in order to lift large grocery items on wood palettes by forklift, and safety was an ever-present issue. Even when baling cardboard boxes, employees had to take special precautions to avoid being hurt using the compression machine. In observing all of these things, I saw firsthand that supermarket employees faced a range of issues related to health and workplace safety that were of concern.
Even for myself, after months of working there, I developed a benign cyst in my left hand from the repetition of pushing shopping carts back into the store. It turned out that the plastic in the carts was rubbing against the bones in my hand and had accumulated into a pearl shaped mass of scar tissue. I had to have this cyst surgically removed and still bear the scar today. Despite the many hours that I worked, I wasn’t eligible for health insurance and was luckily covered by my mom’s health insurance for this procedure.
After all these years I can see today that the current supermarket strikers are fighting for the same things that were issues of concern for me all those years ago. And contrary to the paid advertisements being put out by the grocery stores in local newspapers, the health benefits that workers would receive under the new contract are anything but substantial. The new contract would force increasing health costs over time onto the backs of employees, and new hires would be effectively cut off from any real coverage. This shifting of the burden of health care comes at a time when the supermarkets have continued to grow and have no fiscal excuse for being so callous to their worker’s health needs. Despite the rising costs of health care (which is a problem in itself), the supermarkets can more than afford to pay for these increases, and have a moral obligation to do so as well considering the inherent health risks in the occupation.
In the face of the upcoming holiday season it is of the utmost importance to continue to support the strikers by refusing to shop at Vons and Albertsons. Holding the integrity of the picket lines is a time honored tradition and means of demonstrating one’s moral support for the striker’s position. In a time of growing concern for rising health costs, by supporting the picket lines, you not only support the strikers, but are standing for a greater moral position that states quite simply, that all people have a right to affordable health care for themselves and for their families. And if you do support the strikers, please remember a slogan from the advertisements of the old Alpha Beta supermarket, and “tell and friend.”
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