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Michael Hiltzik: At a subsidiary of a $4 billion corporation, these low-wage workers are striking for better pay

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

"Every market is different," he said. "It doesn't necessarily correlate to a cost of living.... In Santa Fe Springs, our wages prior to the negotiation were at or above market, as we understand it."

He said he asked the international union for data demonstrating that "our wages were not competitive to the market," but it "was never presented to us."

The Donaire strike is part of what looks like a reawakening of labor activism. Part of that trend is an expanding awareness of the working conditions and economic pressures on workers at the low end of the wage spectrum.

On Tuesday, for instance, a report by the Economic Roundtable of Los Angeles documented that more than 3 in 4 employees of the grocery conglomerate Krogers met government standards for food insecurity.

That means they "cannot afford balanced and healthy food" and "run out of food before the end of the month, skip meals, and are hungry sometimes," according to the report, which was based on surveys of nearly 37,000 Kroger workers in Southern California, Colorado and the Seattle area.

The workers' "exceptionally high rate of food insecurity is seven times greater than the U.S. average," the report observed. About 14% of the surveyed workers said they had resorted to food stamps or a community food bank.

 

The bakery workers union has emerged as an aggressive force for redressing years of declining quality of life for low-wage workers.

Over the last year, the union has won contract victories after a nearly five-month strike by 1,400 workers at Kellogg cereal plants, after a nearly five-week strike by 1,000 workers at Mondelez/Nabisco plants and after a 20-day walkout by more than 600 Frito-Lay workers.

Those are just the most obdurate employers, says David Woods, the union's secretary-treasurer.

"We've negotiated dozens of contracts this year with other employers that recognized that the labor shortage in this country has created opportunities for workers to get more and avoid a labor dispute," Woods told me. "Some companies were looking backwards as if these were normal times. They are not normal times, and workers are just fed up."

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