About this time last year, Southern California was suffering through a lengthy strike by grocery workers at several major supermarket chains, including Safeway (NYSE:SWY), Kroger, (NYSE:KR), and Albertson's (NYSE:ABS). One of the issues the union and owners were fighting over was asking workers to pay more for health insurance. The media played this up as the crux of the disagreement, but the real bone of contention was management's desire to create a second-tier pay scale for new hires -- one with significantly lower pay and benefits.

The strike lasted for months, the union's strategy was a disaster from the start, and the workers were crushed -- forced back onto the job after accepting most of management's proposals. Bad for workers, good for management, and good for investors.

Mind you, I'm not saying I'm happy about this. As a union guy myself (the Writer's Guild of America), I feel that workers across the country are in serious trouble. Soaring health-care costs have meant that attempts to win any other concessions, besides keeping health benefits at their current levels, have been met by laughter from management.

Investors, however, may find some bitter benefits in all this. As long as the health-care crisis in this country continues, management holds the cards with unions. That means lower labor costs, which eventually travel to the bottom line. Recently, the supermarkets reached agreements with other grocery unions here in the West. Details have not been disclosed, but I'm willing to bet the unions got squashed again.

These kinds of crises can also create opportunities for astute investors already familiar with the key issues and players in an industry. Stores like Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI) already had contracts in place, so they were spared a strike. In fact, their traffic increased, as customers who would not cross picket lines sampled Whole Foods instead.

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Lawrence Meyers owns no stocks mentioned in this article, which solely reflects his opinion. Nothing he says should be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any stock.