The Shadow of Your Smile.

Larry Miller on the Ralph's/Von's/Albertson's grocery worker strike in California:
ABOUT A MONTH AGO Ralphs, Albertson's, and Vons--three large supermarket chains here in California--told the union they were taking back something they had already given, health care. They said they'd still pay for the bulk of it, but that costs were so high the workers would have to chip in part of the money, five dollars and change per week for a single employee, fifteen dollars and change per week for a family.

I know, that doesn't sound unreasonable, does it? Costs are high for companies in general, millions of Americans have no insurance at all, and millions more have to pay inflated rates for their own coverage (and it usually stinks, too). In fact, one of the reasons costs keep going up is that companies have to make bulk deals for their workers like this one. All right, you may say, so the supermarket employees will have to chip in a couple of bucks themselves. So? What are they complaining about? It's just a gallon of milk and a carton of eggs a week (as management has said in a very clever newspaper ad).

This is how I see it: It's never, ever in a million years going to wind up being just five bucks a week. After the union caves in and the stores are full again, the company will quietly say, "Oh, you know what? Turns out it's thirty bucks a week and eighty for families." Three months after that it'll double, and so on, but it'll be too late. The world will have moved on, and no one will have a prayer.

Now, a reasonable person might ask, "Why should a company have to pay for health care in the first place?" That's a fair discussion, and I guess any issue is on the table during negotiations, but the main thing to me is that, in this case, it had already been settled. They had given it to them years ago, and they just want to take it away because they think they can. The company is doing very well, and it's not right for them to precipitate the whole thing by saying, "Um, you know that thing you already have? We want it back."
A reasonable person might also ask if the price of healthcare has remained stable since the chains agreed to pay for said healthcare "years ago." In point of fact, a reasonable person would already know damn well it hasn't. But that's not important to Larry Miller, because there's something so much more important than the solvency of the chain at stake here:
I've been in that Ralphs twice a week for the past ten years, and I know the people who work there. I knew when Mary got married and had her first kid. A nice guy with a mustache named Chris sometimes tells me a joke, and I laugh no matter what it is, and I forgot my wallet a couple of times and the manager smiled and said, "Oh, just bring it on your next visit." Audra recently got promoted. She exchanged some eggs for me once when they were cracked, and we've laughed many times about how easy it is to be forgetful at the end of the day. There's a cashier with the prettiest smile in the world, and I always look for her, and a slightly built lady who's a little disabled, and we chat every time as she bags, and she loves working there very, very much.
Oddly enough, the plight of the MTA mechanics doesn't strike the same chord of noble suffering with ol' Lar':
The MTA mechanics went on strike at the same time (I disagree with that one) and took a lot of attention away from Ralphs.
Odd. Just "I disagree with that one", no reason given. The MTA mechanics were likewise promised company-paid healthcare bennies in an earlier agreement; why the hell is their plight any different from that of the grocery workers? Is it possibly because Mr. Miller doesn't ride on public transportation, and his conscience rests easy on their behalf because he's never had a mechanic smile at him?

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