Many of us in Venice shop at our local , Vons and Pavilions, unionized grocery stores whose labor contract was set to expire Sunday at midnight.
Those of us who have lived in L.A. for a while remember the bitter labor dispute with the supermarkets that led to a 141-day strike in 2003-2004.
On Friday, the grocers tried to avert a strike by extending to the end of the month the current contract with the United Food and Commercial Workers, whichh represents 62,000 grocery workers in Southern California. The sticking points, as seems to be the case in every union negotiation these days, are wages, healthcare, and pensions.
In Ohio and Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers are digging in to battle public sector unions. The assault in Wisconsin is particularly egregious because a bill has already passed the assembly that will strip public service unions of collective bargaining rights.
In L.A., the United Teachers Union has been weakened. “We’ve already agreed to unpaid furlough days to avoid layoffs,” English teacher Brenda Varma told me. As of this posting, she can’t even count on teaching summer school as she has for years.
Unions have done a lot of good for the United States having a large role in creating a well compensated, educated middle class. When my great grandfather first came to this country, he was severely injured in an iron mine working a non-union job. His lifelong settlement for lost wages was a whopping $200. Today union workers almost always have health insurance and other benefits like pensions so that they don’t spent their senior years in abject poverty.
Yet in recent years union membership has declined. In the private sector less than 9 percent of workers belong to a union, while more than a third of public employees are members making them an easy target for plutocrats, the richest 0.1 percent of American taxpayers who have seen their share of the national income swell from less than 3 percent to more than 12 percent in a generation. According to the 2010 census, there’s now a record gap in this country between rich and poor.
Even if you don’t work a union job, you benefit from unions influence. The 40-hour work week, the end of child labor, Medicare, Social Security, workman’s compensation, and the Civil Rights Act all exist in their current forms due largely to organized labor.
In these trying economic times, unions deserve our support, not misplaced blame for our economic problems.