There are no two words that bring a skip to my step like Bonus Buy. I’m talking about that wonderful little yellow tag you see at Albertsons when Ben & Jerry’s is two for $5. I have not laid eyes on those little discount gems in over six weeks, but for good cause. As most of you know, Vons’ and Albertsons’ union workers launched a strike against their respective owners for their intentions of cutting medical benefits and other issues. The corporate owners claim that reduced benefits came as a result of competition with non-unionized stores such as Wal-Mart whose one-stop shopping standard is taking customers away from regular supermarkets.
About a month ago it was the hip thing to support the strikers; honking your horns and not crossing the picket lines. This initial overwhelming support has begun to fade. “I’ve only been there a couple times,” or “It’s just too inconvenient,” are some of the phrases I’ve heard from people who have returned from the stores.
So what’s the big deal, right? You tried to be helpful and those cute little strikers couldn’t work it out in time for usual Sunday shopping. So it is business as usual, right? It is the bigger picture that needs to be seen. I too have fallen victim to the black hole that is Isla Vista and felt that there can’t possibly be a world past State Street, but there is and it must be considered.
In response to the strike, Vons and Albertsons have brought in temporary workers or “scabs” – I don’t even want to think about how they got that name. These new employees make about half of the average $17 per hour the union workers made, with little of the benefits. The store owners managed to cut expenses on labor, but fewer customers are coming in to boost their profits. At the beginning of the strike, Safeway, one of the chain’s owners, stood to lose $20 million to $40 million a month.
“But even that amount is only five percent of its annual profit, so the strike could last for a year and cost them only half their profits,” said Mark Hugh Sam, equity analyst for Morningstar Inc. That was at the beginning of the strike. Now, as more and more people begin to cross the picket lines, the stores are beginning to see profits rise again. It could eventually turn into a win-win situation for store owners: cheaper labor with less cost per worker.
Going back to that big picture thing I mentioned earlier, what does this hold for the future? Unions will collapse without proper support from the public. We will be left with corporations setting sub-living wage standards with meager benefits because they know the public won’t bat an eye as long as their goods and services are provided for them. We are fostering a working class that is unable to purchase goods and maintain our economy. That may sound a bit familiar to those history majors out there; it was called the Great Depression. A recession, the economic state are we in right now, is that thing that precedes a depression.
Just remember to look at the bigger picture. You will be affected by a union in one way or another in your life, either directly or indirectly. A friend or family member who might be a teacher, a bus driver, or even an industrial worker may look to you in support. I hope your choice will come down to something bigger then what is convenient for you. As my mom always told me, life is choices. For the time being, choose Mac’s Market, Isla Vista Market, or Trader Joe’s.
Chris Holmes is a senior economics and mathematics major.