In case you haven’t noticed the picket lines that have sprung up in front of your local grocery store, the local union 1036 has gone on strike.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) began to strike against Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs grocery stores this Saturday at 10:30 p.m. Members of UFCW are protesting a new contract offered by these stores which reduces pay plans, health benefits and pension plans and establishes a two-tiered system which may put some senior employees out of jobs. The strike is one of the largest in history, covering all of southern California – approximately 900 grocery stores and an estimated 70,000 strikers.
Union representatives say the strike itself is going well, but the stores have not made any compromises or even offered to come to the bargaining table.
“Everything is going very well – morale is high and the public response has been wonderful,” UFCW spokesman Bob Bleiweiss said. “Right now we’re just waiting for a response from the bargain unit [Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs]; the ball is in their court.”
Strikers in front of the Albertsons on Hollister Avenue in Goleta said they are looking for support from the community and fair treatment from their employers.
“More than anything, we need support from the community,” said Pauline Lara, Albertsons employee and picket organizer. “Their leverage against us is that we’re out of a paycheck; we’re not making any money. We’re trying to build community support, so hopefully they won’t be making money either.”
The strike was initially declared outside of a Vons in Echo Park. Once word of the strike spread, other supermarkets began locking out their employees and hiring temporary workers to replace them.
“I showed up for work [Sunday] at 5:30 a.m., my usual time, then they locked us out at 7:00,” longtime Albertsons employee Jill Rauch said. “They’ve got scab help and they’ve hired people off the street, some of whom are being paid more than some of our union workers.”
Picketers said their main goal was to deter potential customers from entering the store.
“Most people who support us are staying away from the stores,” Rauch said. “We’ve been turning some people away, but we can’t convince everyone.”
At the entrance of the Calle Real Albertsons, picketers were handing out fliers encouraging shoppers to honor the picket lines and shop elsewhere. Alternate grocery stores recommended by the strikers are Costco, Isla Vista Market, Trader Joe’s, Santa Cruz Market, I.V. Food Co-op, Gelson’s, Lazy Acres and Scolari’s. Despite these alternatives, local markets continue business as usual.
“We’re here because there’s nothing at Trader Joe’s; all their shelves are empty,” said Lindsay Iyama, a senior Asian American studies major, while she was shopping with her mom at Albertsons on Tuesday night. “Honestly, we’d go there, but they’re cleaned out.”
On Tuesday night, Trader Joe’s shelves were understocked and customers were complaining about the long lines. Managers at the store could not comment on whether they have seen an increase in business since the strike began.
“All we want is to keep our contract status quo, but what they’re offering us is so far out in right field,” Rauch said. “We’re not asking for more money; we just want to keep our current wages.”
Currently there is no end in sight for the strike.
“Right now they’re not talking, so we’re bracing ourselves for a long-term strike,” Bleiweiss said.
The Albertsons corporate headquarters could not be reached for comment.