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He Said/She Said

Should I Cross The Picket Line?
Posted by Sean McConnor and Winter Kelly on Dec 1, 2003 - 9:54:00 PM

STUDIO CITYDear He Said / She Said,

Please settle this argument I am having with my friends. They are against crossing the picket line. I don't understand what the big deal is. I get paid $10.50 an hour, have no health benefits and if I work more than eight hours a day, I don't get over-time. I have been at this job for three years and I believe my time is just as valuable as a store clerk. On top of this, I am fully educated and have student loans that I pay off on this limited budget. However, I still have time and money to go out every weekend, buy great clothes and attend exciting events. If I am unhappy with my job, I will simply quit and get another one. Why can't it be like this? Why does the store/union or whomever feel it is our business because they are unhappy with their job? What would we do if the police went on strike? They risk their lives, but get paid way less than even some of the store clerks. My friend says that the big corporation is going to take over the world if we let them.

Tired Shopper Studio City, CA

Jenna Skarzenski / Canyon News

Dear Tired Shopper,

One of the major L.A. newspapers reported recently that Wal-Mart was going to open 17 new Super Centers in Southern California next year. The article also reported the plight of a mother of five, losing her $15 an hour job (with benefits and pension) because the chain she worked for closed all their stores in her area because of Wal-Mart.

What you see outside your neighborhood, Ralph's, Vons, or Albertsons is the last gasp of a dying breed of people: unionized American workers who are making living wages. Wal-Mart is not unionized. Its workers may make $9 an hour with no benefits. Multiply that by eight (if they are lucky to be full-time) and you get $72 and multiply that by five, and you get $360 and that four times and you get almost $1,500 a month. How many people with a family can live in Southern California for that amount? Could you?

On the other hand, I have no hesitation about crossing the picket lines to shop. The market union is not really striking. If they were serious, they would call a general market strike and close all the markets in the area. As it is, they want you go to Food 4 Less (which also owns Ralphs which they are striking), nor shop Albertsons (which owns Sav-on and is not being effected). To me, you either strike or not. I think this is a pseudo-strike with the workers as pawns.

The workers are pawns in this nationwide chess game to take away decent wages and benefits. To have fewer but bigger businesses and to dehumanize the workplace in the U.S. Look around you, we didn't used to have banks from coast to coast like now, we did not have the same supermarket chain owning all the stores, we did not have multinational companies and we did not have all our products made overseas.

Go ahead, Tired Shopper, shop where you want. Enjoy what freedom of movement you have because some day all the American institutions of yesteryear will be gone. And all of us are going to be losers, big time.


Dear Tired Shopper,

You must be talking about the strikes that are taking place at the local Vons and Ralphs stores. Although I agree that striking is a waste of time, there must be a reason in having all those people wasting their days pacing the cement to get a point across to the world, so let's investigate!

First, this is not just about people choosing to strike. This is about employers 'locking out' their employees. Apparently, only one of the store's clerks (Vons) chose to strike. The other stores Ralphs and Albertsons chose to lock out their employees, saying that a strike against one store is a strike against all three.

Second, let's examine the reason of the strike. Clerks at Kroger Co.'s Ralphs, Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Albertsons grocery stores went on strike October 11, 2003 after negotiations between union representatives and store officials deadlocked, with health care coverage a key sticking point. These companies operate approximately 900 stores from San Diego to Santa Barbara and control 60 percent of the Southern California market. Officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union initially said workers would only strike at Vons, yet the supermarkets locked out the employees of two other stores.

The Problem: Ralphs, Safeway, Vons and Albertsons officials want the workers to contribute more to healthcare, citing a sluggish economy, rising health care costs and increased competition from non-union rivals such as Wal-Mart Stores, Gelsons and Bristol Farms etc. The union (and workers) disagree. Tom Keller, Von's President, stated that the proposal does not call for wage reductions and ask employees to pay $5 a week for individual health care coverage and $10 - $15 a week for an entire family. The average educational level of a store clerk is high school graduate and/or some college. There is no requirement to have higher-level education to be an employee.

United Food and Commercial Workers Union's (UFCWU) 70,000 clerks began picketing outside Vons market after their talks involving a Federal Mediator broke down. The store's officials stated that the stores would operate and staff temporary workers if needed. Grocery clerks earn approximately $15-$19 per hour, and work a minimum of 24 hours a week, with 70 percent working part-time. The stores want the employees to offset their raise in costs and consequences from a sluggish economy. The union wants the companies to maintain health care plans and provide raises of 50 cents an hour the first year and 45 cents an hour the following two years, a UFCWU employee stated. Finally, crossing the picket line is up to you, the individual.

The argument that the big corporations are taking over the world seems to be a spin on politics. Why? Because the United Food and Commercial Workers Union saying yes or no to a striker, seems more powerful than the store itself. When the workers and union can just challenge any change in pay for the bad or good, it seems they have more power than the stores itself. Therefore, you decide your position, not your friends. Personally, I prefer the stores like Bristol Farms, mostly because they seem to care more about the shopper and they usually remember me and make an effort to say hello. I tend to like the personalized service and I like the 1950s friendliness. I hate the attitude in the bigger chain stores where the workers seem to look right passed you while they ask, "Will that be paper or plastic?" Normally I go for the underdog or the little person as I am one of them, but in this case, I do not see the store clerks as anything close to this. I see them as well-paid employees with great benefits, even if they have to pay $5 a week for health care. In a perfect world, we would all have insurance, but we do not. Most people have to pay $182 to $500 for simple health benefits.


Cliffside Malibu




Serving Bel Air, Benedict Canyon, Beverly Hills. Brentwood, Laurel Canyon, Los Feliz, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Melrose, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Topanga, Canyon, Westwood & Hollywood Hills.