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UFCW Negotiation Update: or Why I find PSARA so Intriguing

By Bob Shimabukuro, PSARA Executive Board member & Associate Editor 

It seems so … well, 1950s stuff. I was about 7 when I heard this stuff all the time: good wage for families; insurance (meaning health insurance); time and a half for overtime; pension, perhaps. Words that still resonate in my ears.

Flash to 2013: UFCW 21, along with UFCW 367 and Teamsters 38 are in collective bargaining for, guess what? Protecting health insurance, living wages for families, holiday pay, good pension. Is this for real? I would have hoped that there’d been more progress.

Flash to 1970: I was back home talking to my uncle (a steamfitter), who was asking me what community organizing was. I briefly replied it was like labor organizing, only it was organizing people with similar interests and communities, ethnicity, in neighborhoods, districts, bent on improving their lives.

“Oh,” he said. “Sounds hard. Harder than laborers. Have to be careful about how leaders are chosen.”

Flash back to June 19, 2013 at the UFCW 21 headquarters when the three unions hosted a breakfast meeting to strategize ways in which community support could help the stalled negotiation process which has been held up by the failure of the big national grocery store chains Safeway, Kroger (Fred Meyer and QFC) and Albertsons to propose a new contract.

At the meeting, representatives from the community groups heard from workers both in informal conversations and from speakers who addressed the group as a whole regarding the main issues. Bread and butter stuff: pay, hours, medical care benefits, pension. With medical benefits being very high on the list. But the speakers also emphasized that many of the workers were very close to their customers.

But what about the community groups? Needless to say, PSARA is one of the groups. I wanted to ask representatives from the other groups about why they were participating. I didn’t get a chance to at the meeting, and other events left me out of touch for a week, so I’ll give my 7 . cents about why I think it’s important.

I’m intrigued about this seemingly scattered approach by PSARA to get involved in a lot of things, from Social Security reform (administratively and fiscally), basic universal health care, environmental, immigration, labor, civil rights, etc.

But adding our support to the largest private sector union in the state makes real sense. They’re taking on some real heavy hitters in Safeway and Kroger, and they (the unions) need all the help they can get.

While all these different groups may have different ideas on why they believe it is important to join in this particular struggle, I’m positive they all believe that we are fighting the same big picture struggle: to ensure we all have a decent place to live, eat, sleep, work, play and yes, die. So in the big picture, PSARA is not scattered at all. Fight anywhere you can. We cannot let the power of the one percent drown us in their greed.

Postscript: It seems silly and quaint, but whenever I think about my dad and labor I think about the Pajama Game movie, which he took all of us kids to see. I don’t remember much about the movie, but afterwards Dad (with my older sister sometimes) would just break out singing:

Seven and a half cents, doesn’t buy a heck of a lot,

Seven and a half cents, doesn’t buy a thing,

But give it to me every hour, 40 hours of the week

That’s enough for me to be living like a king.

It was hilarious. He certainly wasn’t Doris Day.

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