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Costco Values Labor Over Leisure

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Message Sandy Todd

There are two grocery stores in my small town, both represented by the same UFCW Local 555. It's contract negotiation time, which seems to be a better kept secret than Valerie Plame ever was. Not one article in any local newspaper, nothing on the local news. I hope they don't find themselves in a position of needing public support because the public doesn't seem to know they exist. This sort of thing makes it harder and harder to explain to young people why they should pay union dues to get the exact same minimum wage and benefit non-union workers receive, let alone the community who hears the union voice even less.

What that young worker doesn't know are the hurdles the union negotiator has to jump before they can even begin talking about wage increases. The 41 "proposals" Safeway, Fred Meyer and Supervalu bring to the table include:

Future Stores Would Be NonUnion Overtime Would Be Eliminated for over 8 hrs. in a day / 32 in a holiday week and 6th day Christmas Day Would become the company's option

Maximum Pay Of only 60 days in the event of wrongful firing Elimination Of a variety of pay and leave benefits for new hires; management's method of attempting to disillusion new workers by getting old workers to throw them overboard.

It's no wonder novice workers are intimidated and discouraged by the process.

It doesn't have to be that way though. On this very day, the UFCW in New England accepted the Stop & Shop contract with employees receiving a $25 a week raise this year, and $20 next year and the year after. Health care benefits will be extended to part time workers who put in just 15 hours a week.

Costco also announced its wage increase,

"When the raises kicked in March 8, scale for service assistants, such as parking lot attendants, was bumped up to a range between $11 and $18.30 an hour from the $10 to $17.50 previously paid. For service clerks, including cashiers, the scale range increased to between $11.50 and $20 an hour compared with $10.50 to $19.17 before.

At the top of the scale, which typically takes about four and a half years, employees will receive an "extra check" of at least $2,200 every six months.

The last time Costco raised entry-level wages was six years ago. "We always want a wide gap between us and the competition," Coscto's CFO Richard Galanti told the Seattle Post Intelligencer. "It shows in the quality of our employees...It's what our founders want to do in paying a family wage."

These increases came over the loud objection of the leisure class - er, stockholders. They continue to demand strict adherence to the belief that "companies should be primarily working for their behalf". I suppose I'd say that too if I could do absolutely nothing and still have the money flow in. A company can't bankrupt itself for the benefit of the employees, no doubt; but neither should they pass the cost of labor on to the taxpayer who subsidize the employees' food, energy, housing and health care.

Truth be told, if they were to consider business health in the long term, they'd realize the economy cannot thrive when 1/3 of all US workers earn less than $11 an hour. Costco is working on the Henry Ford principle, the worker has to earn enough to buy the product. It also might be beneficial for these concerned shareholders to remember how much a strike costs. The 2004 strike in Southern California cost Safeway $412 million dollars. Lifting entry level wages at Costco will only cost $3 million a month. Seems like a smart economic move to me.

Let's hope Local 555 can get Safeway, Fred Meyer and Supervalu to think living wages are the smart move too.

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