After failing to agree on a contract for worker’s wages, workers from Grass Valley’s Raley’s grocery store say they have no other option but to join a union-led strike that began Sunday.
“We are trying to stand strong and send a message,” said meat cutter Vince Criesco. “It’s unfortunate what the store is doing.”
According to United Food and Commercial Workers, the union of which some local workers are members, Raley’s management has threatened to impose its terms on workers and retirees, which include elimination of health care for retirees, severe cutbacks in health care for current workers and reduction in take-home pay.
The sides have been in negotiation for over 15 months.
“A tragic mistake would be for Raley’s management to interpret the union’s fairness for weakness,” said Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW 8-Golden State.
According to Raley’s spokesman John Segale, implementation of the corporate plan was necessary without an agreed bargain.
“The union has never let their members vote on their last and final offer, so we had no choice but to begin implementation,” Segale said. “So what that wage portion of the contract does is it freezes pay increases for two years and eliminates Sunday and holiday premium pay.”
According to a UFCW news release, union attorneys filed unfair labor practices charges due to violation of laws prohibiting harassment, circumventing the union’s authority as a bargaining agent and submitting proposals that are worse than previous offers.
“They apparently prepared a contract worse than what the union already voted on, so what would be the point of having us vote on a worse contract?” said Criesco, who has worked as a union employee since 1985.
According to Segale, the cuts to worker’s contracts are necessary to compete with non-union grocery stores, such as Walmart.
“We have got to reduce our operating expenses so we can compete competitively with all the non-union grocery stores and retailers,” Segale said.
One of the main concerns for Raley’s union employees is retirement benefits.
“I’ve been here for 30 years and I want to make sure I have a retirement when I’m done,” said Grass Valley Raley’s meat manager Patrick Hardy, who stood on the side of the road for nine hours on Sunday and said he plans to strike every day until a deal is made.
Hardy said he plans to sacrifice phone, Internet and regular meals in order to strike.
“We’ve planned for a while and have been saving up and have frozen and canned food,” Hardy said. “Whatever it takes to get through.”
Retired Raley’s meat cutter Tom Parks, who worked with the company for 43 years, said he worries about his future if retirement benefits are rescinded.
“I stand to lose my medical benefits if (Raley’s CEO John) Teal gets his way,” Park said. “When I retire, there is no guarantee of benefits for the rest of my life.”
Criesco said he wishes a fair contract could be agreed upon so he can go back to work.
“All we want is a contract,” Criesco said. “I want to go to work. I love Raley’s. It breaks my heart to have to do this.”
Criesco said due to the slim pay striking offers, he will have to look to other union grocers for work.
“Strike pay is $200 a week,” Criesco said. “How am I going to pay my mortgage?”
According to Segale, not all locations are a part of a union, and different departments of the store are a part of varying unions.
“Workers are members of seven different unions,” Segale said. “Some members may have decided to honor the picket line and not cross, but that’s more of a support for a union, not necessarily their union that is striking. It varies from store to store.”
Raley’s-owned grocery store Bel Air is not a part of the strike, nor are about 20 non-union Raley’s stores out of the 100 Raley’s locations in California and Nevada, according to Segale.
Criesco has also seen the non-union side of working for Raley’s, as his wife is a Raley’s employee without union benefits.
“They are taking non-union employees to cross picket lines and putting them in harm’s way,” he said. “And if you don’t do it, you get little hours.”
Such a threat is part of what prompted UFCW lawyers to file unfair labor practices charges against Raley’s.
Hardy said he appreciates the support from motorists as they pass by the strike signs.
“When we get a honk, it helps pep us up,” he said. “It’s frustrating when people drive by and go into the parking lot.”
Raley’s customer Dee Brafford, who said she only went into the store to pick up her medicine from the union-led pharmacy, commends the striking efforts of the workers.
“More power to them,” Brafford said. “If Raley’s cares, they should step up to the plate.”
Brafford said she would be buying groceries elsewhere in the meantime.
“I’m heading over to SPD (grocery store) right now.”
Despite the strike, all Raley’s stores are operating under normal store hours.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.