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OCTOBER 30, 2003
5:03 PM
Sarah E. Massey 202-637-5018
Statement by AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney on UFCW Grocery Workers' Strike and Lock Out
WASHINGTON - October 30 - The AFL-CIO pledges its solidarity and active support for 85,000 grocery workers who are on strike or are locked out and are holding the line for America’s health care -- from Southern California to Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio.

Giant, profitable companies – Safeway, Kroger, Albertson’s and others – are calculating that they can take on their workers and pressure them into taking a dramatic, permanent cut in health care benefits. But they’re not just taking on their 85,000 heroic striking workers. They’re taking on every one of us up here. They’re taking on everybody who cares about America’s families getting the health care they need at a price they can afford. These workers are not alone, and have the full support of the entire union movement and our allies.

On behalf of the 13 million members of the AFL-CIO, we pledge to stand beside these striking and locked-out workers every step of the way, and do whatever it takes to make sure they hold out one day longer than their employers. This fight sends a clarion call to all of America’s working families and our communities. At a time when America’s non-union employers are routinely succeeding in shifting the burden of rising health care costs onto working families’ shoulders, unionized grocery workers are fighting back.

Unlike workers who don’t have a union, these workers have a way to make their voices heard, and to say “no” to corporate profiteering at the expense of basic health care coverage for workers and their families. Even though they are profitable and can afford the healthcare benefits their workers need, Kroger’s, Safeway and Albertson’s have proposed health care funding cuts which would leave these workers’ health plans dramatically underfunded, and which could force workers to be priced out of health care altogether.

These companies can afford to do better. Our communities deserve better, too. When unscrupulous employers try to pad their profits at the expense of workers’ health care plans, workers end up relying on taxpayer-funded public health care programs.

The fact is that health care has been a major issue in nearly every set of negotiations in the last 18 months, as the leaders who are with us here today will attest. Union workers have been largely successful in holding the line on health care, and stopping employers from fattening their bottom lines at the expense of workers’ basic health care.

We’re here today to make sure these grocery store workers are successful, too. Today, we’re announcing the creation of a national strike fund for the grocery workers nationwide -- the Hold the Line for Health Care Strike Fund. The AFL-CIO will contribute to this fund, and we will ask all our affiliated unions to do the same. In addition, I am calling on all of our 50 state federations and our more than 300 Central Labor Councils to mobilize to support these strikers, and to raise money for the Hold the Line for Health Care Strike Fund. And we plan to organize working people all across the country to send a message to Albertson’s, Kroger and Safeway that we will not stand for this.

In addition, the AFL-CIO, JP Morgan and Smith Barney Citigroup will co-sponsor a conference call for Safeway investment analysts and shareholders today. During the call, Sarah Palmer Amos, Executive Vice President of the UFCW, will update participants on Safeway’s destructive labor strategy, and review the UFCW’s efforts to maintain affordable health care for its members who work for the major companies in the retail food industry. A representative of the AFL-CIO Office of Investment will then offer our perspective on why Safeway's hardened approach toward labor reflects deeper management problems, and will only further jeopardize Safeway's competitiveness and long-term shareholder value.

We’re behind the 85,000 American workers who are bravely taking a stand for health care. We will fight for the more than 200,000 members of these grocery store workers’ families who cannot afford to lose their health insurance. And we will be calling not only for these employers to do the decent thing, we will also be calling for every candidate for office in 2004 to have a plan to ensure good, affordable health care to every man, woman and child in America. We will do whatever it takes to hold the line for America’s healthcare.


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