Health care on aisle 5…

The LA Times reports that grocery workers have reached a tentative agreement with Southern California’s supermarket chains, avoiding strikes that crippled the industry for 141 days in 2003-04.

While neither side has said what agreements were reached, the Times reports that new workers would not have to wait as long to become eligible for health insurance. During the last contract, new employees had to wait 18 months (and their families nearly three years) before getting health coverage.

The result is that health coverage for workers fell to 54 percent (from 94 percent), according to the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Studies. Turnover also increased to 32 percent (from 19 percent.)

According to the Times, the new waiting period would be 6 months. If this is true, it’s a significant step.

Among those who are working and uninsured, 25% are not eligible for coverage by their employers — either because they are in waiting periods or are a classification of employee that does not qualify for benefits.

Often, these are low-wage workers who would literally have to choose between putting food on the table, paying utilities and rent. There’s no way they could afford premiums for coverage purchased on their own — the most expensive way to buy coverage.

Stay tuned for more details on the grocery worker contract.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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