by Duane Campbell
5,000 Union members of the United Food and Commercial Workers in Northern California have struck Raley’s Supermarkets a Northern California chain of 130 stores to protect their existing contract benefits. [Update: The Strike has ended. A contract is being submitted to the members for ratification.] Raley’s, the largest chain in the region, claims that it can no longer afford health benefits for retirees and other union provisions due to the growth and expansion of non union supermarkets such as Wal-Mart. Safeway, the larger national chain, and Save Mart Supermarkets have already signed agreements that maintained prior wages and contract provisions. Wal-Mart has opened six new stores in the Sacramento region in the last 3 years and has gone from barely visible to a 14% share of the market by relying upon non union workers.
Clerks at Raley’s earn from $9.10 to $21.00 per hour. Raley’s has imposed its last contract offer which changed workers health care plan and eliminates premium pay for Sundays and holidays. Raley’s has hired some 500 replacement workers and posted large ads in the local newspapers arguing their case and giving away a number of free groceries.
Raley’s has never had a strike before. The walkout is the first in Northern California’s grocery industry since a nine-day work stoppage in 1995. It’s the first in the state since the epic Southern California strike of 2003, which consumed nine months and cost employers billions.
UFCW members and supporters are picketing all stores and asking shoppers to go elsewhere for their groceries. ”The retail grocery was the place where people without a college education could make a decent living,” said Jacobs, from UC Berkeley. “It has been eroding. The demand that Raley’s is making in health care is another step in that direction.”
Despite more than $3 billion in annual sales, CEO Teel told employees the company is losing millions of dollars a year.
UFCW workers and supporters ask that all union supporters not cross their picket lines.
Filed under: Strikes and work action