One week after its employees went on strike, Raley’s invited union negotiators back to the bargaining table to resume talks.
Meanwhile, about two dozen store employees and supporters walked the picket line at Napa’s Nob Hill Foods on Monday, their signs still protected in the plastic that was wrapped around them last week to keep them dry in the rain.
“We’re not backing down,” said Jennifer Martinez, who has worked in the store’s bakery for 11 years.
Most Nob Hill employees, along with fewer than 10 butchers at the Napa Raley’s, went on strike Nov. 4, joining about 8,000 workers at roughly 90 other locations in Northern California. The strike, which followed 15 months of unfruitful negotiations, is the first in the history of the West Sacramento–based Raley’s, which owns Nob Hill Foods.
The striking employees, who are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, passed out information to shoppers Monday saying Raley’s is trying to destroy their health care, force unfair terms without employee input, and harass and threaten workers, among other claims.
One flier had a photo of a large yacht, which employees said belongs to Raley’s President and CEO Mike Teel.
“If he sold that, he could pay all of us,” said Barbara Purtell, who has worked at Nob Hill for 23 years and has walked the picket every day the past week except one, when she needed to baby-sit her granddaughter. She carried a photo of the baby to keep her spirits up, she said.
Over the weekend, Raley’s offered free groceries and coupons to shoppers who spent at least $20 in one of its stores.
Purtell said she saw a few more customers cross the picket line over the weekend, possibly to get the free items. But most regular customers are going elsewhere, she said.
When someone she recognizes does enter Nob Hill, it makes her want to quit, Purtell said.
“I’m getting to the point where I don’t even want to go back — I feel like retiring,” she said. “When you see the customers go by and the co-workers go in, I think it’s going to be too difficult to go back.”
Customers have brought the picketers food, one even handing over groceries she received free from another store. Checker Arely Soriano said that kind of support is encouraging, but she too is discouraged by those who continue to shop at Nob Hill.
“It’s like our family. It’s really painful for us to receive that kind of response,” Soriano said. “When we see our loyal customers say, ‘We are with you guys, hang in there,’ it’s a motivation for us. We’re fighting for our rights.”
In addition to bringing home-baked treats, some shoppers have picked up signs and joined the picket line.
“I used to work for retail clerks and I believe in what they stand for,” said Gary Kranz, a retired Safeway employee who has shopped at Nob Hill for decades, but not in the past week. He picketed on Monday with store employees.
“It’s a big corporation and they’re saying, ‘We’re losing money,’ but they’re taking away their retirement and health benefits and making (employees) pay more for the benefits,” Kranz said.
Union members who strike are supposed to receive pay from the union but had not received checks as of Monday, Purtell said. She would not say how much pay they receive, but said it is much less than their normal hourly wages.
Striking employees will miss their first paycheck Friday, she said. All said they will take a hit, especially going into the holidays.
Soriano and her husband Mauricio, a produce manager, are both on strike.
“For both of us to be out here is hard,” Arely said. “It’s two incomes we’re losing. We have six children, so it’s a big impact for us.”
Mauricio said he hopes a deal will be reached in the coming days so customers will return in full force to do their Thanksgiving shopping.
In a brief statement issued Monday, Raley’s said both parties had returned to the bargaining table.
“Negotiations have resumed this weekend between the two parties in an effort to reach a contract agreement,” Raley’s spokesman John Segale wrote in an email. “Both parties have agreed to not discuss the progress of these talks while the current negotiations are ongoing. We are committed to reaching an agreement that is fair and equitable to both parties.”
Jacques Loveall, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 8, encouraged workers in an online message to continue walking the picket line until an agreement is reached.
“It is abundantly clear to us Raley’s desire to return to the bargain table has been driven by the success of our picket lines and consumer support for our members,” Loveall wrote. “While we are hopeful this turn of events will lead to a settlement, this is not the time to diminish our efforts.
“Raley’s negotiators are getting regular reports from the stores and their willingness to reach agreement is tied to your ongoing solidarity and action and the continued silence of their cash registers.”
The company wants a pay freeze for all employees for two years with a wage and health and welfare reopener after two years, according to information provided by Segale. Raley’s also wants to eliminate premium pay on Sundays and holidays, maintaining double time pay for those working holidays.
Under the company’s proposed terms, employees hired after the first of the year would receive fewer paid holidays and less vacation time than those currently employed, according to Raley’s.