As we went shopping at our local Giant supermarket — the major chain in the Washington, D.C., area — my wife and I were confronted by a picket line of workers announcing the threat of a strike if their demands were not met. They gave us a two-sided leaflet. One side of it depicts Rosie the Riveter (why this image for supermarket workers?) with a clenched fist, and the banner headline “Standing Strong with Giant and Safeway Workers!” What were they complaining about, as they face upcoming contract negotiations? Better working conditions? Better hours? More vacation time? More time off? The answer: none of the above. The other side has a photo of one worker, a veteran employee who worked at Giant for almost three decades, telling us that the concerns “are of course the wages but more importantly keeping our good healthcare benefits.” Another, a seafood clerk of 15 years, tells us that his issue is “maintaining our health benefits for not just full timers but part timers also.”
They were protesting Obamacare! It seems that at first some workers were transferred to part-time from full-time positions a month or so back. I recall talking to someone at the meat department a while ago who informed us that the chain was reducing hours and hiring only part-timers. That’s why he was understaffed and we had to wait quite a while for service.
Now, as negotiations are coming, Giant and Safeway management have announced that all part-timers will lose their regular health insurance, and that only full-time employees will continue to receive it. Other chains, such as Home Depot, did the same a month or two ago. Economics writer Robert J. Samuelson explained that “the ACA may cause some companies to limit hiring or cut hours to escape the law’s requirement to provide health insurance. (The law exempts firms with fewer than 50 full-time workers; full-time is 30 hours a week or more.)”
As one of the picketing workers we spoke to told us, “We want our regular employee health insurance. We don’t want to be forced onto the Obamacare exchanges.” Now I assume that since they can’t get onto the official government website, they do not know whether, as the administration assures everyone, they can keep their own policies. (They can’t, of course, if the government has provided a better policy for them that the user is told they must accept.) These workers, or their union chiefs, have decided in advance that whatever policy the supermarket chain owners want their part-timers to accept, it will not be better.