This is in response to Chris Holmes’ article “Even in the Sixth Week, Strikers Deserve Respect” (Daily Nexus, Nov. 24). In his article, the senior economics major seems to not understand basic economics, much less the larger forces at work. We chose not to honor the greedy picket lines at Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs, for somewhat more informed reasons than those Chris laid out.
In his article, Chris points out that the average wage of an Albertsons union worker is around $17 per hour, plus a fairly impressive benefits package. Seventeen dollars an hour for unskilled labor, requiring no higher education and minimal training, is incredible. The average fast food worker makes $7-8 per hour with significantly fewer benefits. The can stacker who gets paid $17 an hour to move cans a few feet should not be striking for more. And as though $17 an hour weren’t enough, Albertsons pays its employees double time to work on Sunday and triple time to work on holidays. This puts the union workers at almost $40,000 a year, which is nearly double the living wage in California, rated now at $9.20 an hour. I’d say Albertsons employees make a fair amount more than employees in any other equally demanding industry.
Agree with the strike or not, you must be astonished by the poor planning the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union put into this strike. Most glaringly obvious is the all-over strike approach. By striking at three major food stores, the UFCW forces consumers to either break the picket lines or swarm smaller, unprepared, higher-priced and crowded grocery stores. If they’d struck at just one store, they could have held the threat of strike over the other two with far more success. Furthermore, their own union members wouldn’t be compromising the strike by greeting us at the picket line with “Don’t shop here, shop at Ralphs!” Second, their strike continues through the Thanksgiving holiday, which – aside from robbing its own union members of exorbitant holiday wages – forces those few who still honor the picket lines to ask themselves: “When’s the last time I bought a turkey at Trader Joe’s?” An all-over strike works when you represent a highly controlled, skilled-labor market. If the pilot’s union goes on strike, you honor it because there aren’t any viable alternatives. No one would fly with a “scab” pilot, brought off the street with no training. Pilots are not easily replaced.
Alternatives, especially in Isla Vista, are poor substitutes for a real grocery store. Isla Vista and Mac’s Markets are just glorified liquor stores. When we went in looking for vitamins, a common item at any major grocery store, we were answered with a confused, “This is I.V. Market. We have beer.”
We consider ourselves to be very liberal Americans. We’ll support a legitimate, well-planned strike with realistic goals, when one comes along. But don’t ask us to bike a half an hour each way to pay more for imported food so that a can-stacker can have the best, lowest-cost health care plan in the nation. Most workers would never dream of striking if they had half the pay and benefits of the Albertsons employees. How do we know? One-fourth of the American workforce makes less than $8 per hour, and you don’t see all of them on strike. Lets look at Albertsons employees for what they are: unskilled, easily replaceable labor. A strike of this magnitude, in times when unemployment is high, will not gain you support. It will lose you your job. From a corporate perspective, it’s far cheaper and easier to just train replacements than to meet the UFCW’s demands.
Lastly, we’d like to thank the UFCW, because if they hadn’t gone on strike, we’d never have known that we could be paid $51 an hour to stack cans at a grocery store.
Brad Hubbard is an undeclared sophomore and Ben Coffee is a sophomore psychology major.