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A column in The Los Angeles Times by the excellent Michael Hiltzik assesses the California supermarket strike, which has entered its fourth month with no sign of resolution.

"At this stage," Hiltzik writes, "it's impossible to tell when this tussle might end, or how much the workers might have to concede in a settlement. (It's reasonable to assume that they'll have to give in on something.) But it's not too early to judge what the course of the dispute says about the condition of the American labor movement today: It's pitiful.

"The UFCW's regional locals, to start with, vastly underestimated their opponents in this fight. When talks opened in August, union leaders told me, they were blindsided by the depth of the cuts demanded by the supermarket chains in health care and other provisions." Furthermore, the unions have remained surprised at the solidarity shown by the chains, even in the face of more than $1 billion in lost sales.

"That means they've underestimated Safeway Chairman Steven A. Burd, who is spearheading the assault," Hiltzik writes.

In addition, he notes, the union has not effectively communicated that the fight isn’t "about asking the workers to pay a little out of their own pockets for health care," and that "it's really about an attempt to sharply reduce the level of health benefits overall, especially for new hires."

At this point, Hiltzik writes, it seems likely that the unions will have to concede more than management…and that whatever resolution to the strife is reached, it will come at a higher price to organized labor than to management.
KC's View:
Reading a piece like this only heightens our frustration at the inability of the two sides to come to any kind of equitable agreement.

And things aren't getting any better. If anything, labor is getting more aggressive.

The Associated Press reports that a rally of about one thousand protestors outside Vons headquarters resulted in the arrest of close to a dozen labor and religious leaders.

"We are escalating protests throughout California," said Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation. "We will continue until the grocery chains provide affordable health care to workers."

But management wasn't budging. "These kinds of rallies do nothing to address the issues that have been the sticking points throughout this strike," said Vons spokeswoman Sandra Calderon.

However, it isn’t only the unions feeling the pressure. The California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers) gas said that it plans to ratchet up pressure on the chains to settle the dispute, complaining that the strike is costing them money. Calpers owns $77 million worth of Safeway stock.