POLICY: S. Cal grocery strike is over, but the health issue rumbles on

The southern California grocery workers strike is over with the Union having “won” on the issue of no premium-sharing for now, and lost on the “two-tier” wages issue. The LA Times says

    “The union claimed a victory in healthcare coverage: Under the contract, veterans won’t have to pay for their coverage in the first two years, and not in the third year if contributions from the companies are enough to cover costs. If not, the estimated cost would be up to $5 a week for individual coverage and up to $15 a week for family coverage. But workers now will have co-payments for medical services that were paid in full by their insurance under the contract that expired Oct. 6. “

At one point (according to the radio report I heard this morning) the companies wanted the employees to pay up to $95 a week in premium sharing, which would effectively have priced their employees out of health insurance a la Walmart. However, hidden behind this victory is that even for the workers there now (rather than the cheaper ones coming on board in the future) the premium contribution from the company is a defined one, and if costs go over a certain number in 2 years time as they inevitably will, the workers will have to make a contribution to premiums. As it is they have already lost first-dollar coverage.

If I was John Kerry I’d be down at the last of the picket lines right now. Workers all over America are scared of foreign and domestic cheap labor and they are terrified of losing their health care coverage. These two facts are connected. An employee can probably get another job, but maybe not one with health benefits–and of course a bad health experience with no insurance can wipe out the middle American dream in a heartbeat. That’s why, as the StonyBrook survey showed last year, workers would rather keep their health benefits than get a pay rise. The Democrats have got a winning issue here if they can figure out how to make it presentable to the public. They don’t need a solution for now, they just need to reassert that they protect workers and seniors. Watch for the rhetoric here to heat up over the summer.

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