OAKHURST – Tough economic times hit Oakhurst in a very public way today as Raley’s employees went on strike for the first time in the company’s 77-year history.
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union members spent Sunday carrying signs and asking people to honor their picket line by not shopping at the Oakhurst grocery store.Their contract expired last week. After 15 months of failure to reach an agreement, a federal mediator was called in to keep both sides at the table. But intense talks broke down over the weekend, and in the early morning hours on Sunday, Nov. 4, the union made the decision to strike.
“Raley’s-Nob Hill is intent on undermining the medical coverage for active and retired members that has taken decades to build up, along with reducing your take-home pay,” UFCW Local 5 states on its website.
The union encouraged members to show up for work at their regular times to begin their picketing assignments.
“We’re going to be here as long as it takes,” said one striking union member at the Oakhurst Raley’s.
“We’re telling our customers to shop at the other union store which is right across the street,” she said, referring to Vons.
In a speech delivered Thursday, Nov. 1, at the federal building in Sacramento, UFCW 8-Golden State President Jacques Loveall said, “We are here because we filed unfair labor practices charges against Raley’s for failing to bargain in good faith.”
Loveall accuses Raley’s management of attempting to intimidate, interrogate and coerce their members, and trying to devastate their health care.
He called Raley’s offer to extend the contract for three more days and return to the bargaining table “nothing more than a sinister and shameful delay tactic designed to allow managers more time to lie to, threaten and intimidate our members.”
Raley’s management says a weak economy and competition from non-unionized stores has forced it to cut costs. The union has countered that since Raley’s has refused to submit to a full audit of its finances, a legitimate case cannot be made for the concessions they are demanding.
Fox40 TV news in Sacramento quotes Raley’s spokesman John Segale as saying, “At this point we feel it’s done. We’ve done as much talking as possible. We submitted our last and final offer three weeks ago. The union never responded, [and] never has given their employees a chance to vote on the contract that we submitted, so we have no other legal alternative than to implement that contract.”
One striking worker at the Oakhurst store, who requested anonymity, told Sierra News Online that it’s the fault of the management that some stores are losing money.
“We take their strategic plan and implement what they want,” he says. “We fill the shelves, we follow what they tell us to do, we’re loyal to our store. So if their plan doesn’t work, why is it our fault? Why do they take it out on us? Fair wages and health care. That’s not asking too much.”
Some of those cost-saving cuts include “permanent elimination of some wage premiums for working at night and on Sundays and holidays, and establishment of two distinct classes of workers — those hired after the next contract is ratified and those hired before,” says UFCW 8’s website.
“Other terms proposed by the company include elimination of retiree health care and inadequate funding of health care for active workers,” the website states.
Raley’s operates 128 stores in Northern California and Nevada.