Feb 16, 2004
On February 12, Steven Burd, the CEO of Safeway, threatened that he will close some of its Dominicks stores in Chicago unless the workers agree to pay for part of their health care coverage.
Safeway is the second biggest supermarket chain in the Chicago area with 27% of the market. It is also one of the three big supermarkets in southern California, whose 70,000 workers have been on strike since October 11. Albertsons, which is also being struck in California, owns Jewel stores in Chicago, which have 35% of the Chicago market. Although 62% of Chicago area consumers buy from these two companies, almost no Chicago workers know about the strike in California. The corporate media has no interest in telling them about it, and the unions haven't.
The Dominicks-Safeway workers themselves are well aware of the strike going on in California – above all because Safeway is demanding much of the same concessions in Chicago as it is in California.
The Dominicks-Safeway union contract expired November 9, 2002, more than a year ago. In late 2002, when the 9,000 union workers turned down the company's demands for concessions, Safeway threatened to sell Dominicks. Three months ago, saying it couldn't find a buyer, Safeway returned to negotiations, demanding the same concessions.
The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union representing workers in both Southern California and Chicago, says it wants to spread the California campaign nationally. So why is the union dithering around, while the company gets rid of stores and makes the same demands in Chicago as in California? A militant strike begun now in Chicago would reinforce the 70,000 California strikers. Together, they could push to mobilize other workers – and not just at supermarkets. They could become the impetus for a broader resistance in the two biggest working class cities in the country.