Strike effects widely felt
By Jesse Phelps
As the United Food and Commercial
Workers strike that has Ojai Vons employees sweating in the sweltering
late autumn sun nears the end of its second week, people on the
picket line and neighboring businesses are beginning to feel
What is unclear is whether the executives running the supermarket
chains and their union counterparts are any closer to being ready
to accept a compromise. The latest reports show little progress
on the negotiating front. NBC News reported that labor negotiators
have sought a federal arbitrator in an attempt to get a deal
set with supermarket executives but the Ojai Valley News has
been unable to verify any further developments.
The submitted collective bargaining proposal has been deemed
unacceptable by the union because it allows for hiring a second
tier of workers at lower wages, which the UFCW argues would lead
to a loss of premium shifts for longtime employees, and a reduction
in company responsibility for medical benefits.
Meanwhile, the signs are obvious that the strike is costing the
supermarkets plenty of business. In the Ojai Vons, footfalls
echo loudly off the empty shelves in even emptier aisles. A walk
through the store reveals a serious reduction in produce and
bread and a total lack of fish, deli foods and flowers. Perishables
are at a premium and a lone checker waits to ask anyone for his
or her Vons card.
The workers outside the store, meanwhile, long to return to their
duties. They say they'd rather be on the job than in the sun,
that standing outside is far less lucrative than manning their
Nancy Kornegay has worked for nearly three years in the service
deli. On Wednesday, she struggled to hold her emotions in check
as she said, "It's upsetting because we just want to go
back to work. This is my career. I'm 54 years old."
She said that, though she is receiving compensation for her time
on the picket line, it just isn't enough. "It's about half
of what I bring home (normally)," she said. "If we
can't go back to work soon, I'll have to do this and find another
job in the meantime. But I have a job and I want to work that
job. I take pride in my work."
And the financial woes are not limited to strikers. The presence
of picketers and their signs has ancillary effects. Vons shares
the "Y" shopping center with seven other businesses.
Workers or owners at three of them said that their stores and
those of their neighbors have suffered a significant loss of
Les Gardner, proprietor of the
Attitude Adjustment Shoppe, sees two reasons his business, which
shares the Vons end of the parking lot, has seen a drop off.
"People are reluctant to cross the picket line out at the
curb where they drive in," he said. "And the second
reason realistically could be that people who normally trade
at Vons are going other places to do business."
He also said that the strikers, who are making less money, are
less apt to spend than when they are earning their regular paycheck.
"There's a whole ripple effect," said Gardner. "Everybody's
feeling a pinch."
Gardner said that the picketers have been cooperative, by and
large, respecting his wish that they keep their distance with
the signs so as not to appear to be lining up in front of his
store. Like Kornegay, he longs for resolution. "I just hope
it doesn't last long," Gardner said.
Other ripple effects include unsubstantiated reports by community
members that some strikers displayed overly aggressive behavior
toward those crossing the line. Those few who entered in one
hour-long stretch on Wednesday received little or no resistance,
however. UFCW representative Martel Fraser detailed rules of
conduct to a large group of workers after they left the building
last, late at night on Saturday, Oct. 11.
Meanwhile, the strikers themselves
say conflict has barely been an issue, as the community on the
whole has been extremely supportive of their plight, respecting
the line and honking their horns in support.
And in the midst of a very difficult time, many agree they have
found a new familial unit in their coworkers. "What's so
good is the solidarity of our employees here. Everybody has a
good, upbeat outlook," said Kornegay.
Despite difficult circumstances for him, Gardner too finds a
silver lining - for some of his fellow local businesspeople.
"I think that one of the things that's good about it is
that the independent grocery stores, who have for so long competed
against the chains - here in our town, Starr Market and Westridge
- people can find out about those stores and it can have a long-term,
positive impact on them," he said.
Terry Starr and David West said their markets have, in fact,
seen a significant upturn in business since the strike began.
Starr said he hopes that many of the shoppers will remain long
term after having a look at his selection and prices. "People
assume that since we're small, that (our prices are) high,"
he said. "But they're not."
Three shoppers interviewed outside Starr market all said they
were pleasantly surprised with their experience shopping there,
as they all normally shop at Vons. Though one said she prefers
the selection she normally finds at Vons, another said she prefers
the selection at Starr. All agreed that the service and prices
at the local grocer measure up to those at the chain. And all
said that, first and foremost, they want to respect the picket
Joanie Holling said she's worked for a large corporation and
doesn't trust the supermarkets' dogma, which claims that potential
reductions for employees are minimal. "It's much more elaborate
than that," she said. "They're cutting health benefits
for people who have stayed with the company for 20 years because
of a retirement package.
They're going to have an increase
in their drug costs and a larger co-pay. (The supermarkets) are
cutting the whole package and they're not telling the whole truth.
There's a lot of us that don't have health insurance so (shopping
elsewhere) is supporting what we all should have: health care."
Starr said that his staff has been working hard to keep items
in stock to keep the influx of new customers happy but that stocking
has been slowed due to another effect of the strike, solidarity
from truckers and delivery personnel. Still, he said, "If
somebody asks us for something, we try to get it."
Also a union market with a contract that hasn't yet expired,
Starr has hired on some of the disenfranchised workers from the
chain markets. One such hire is Phil Guest, who normally works
as a frozen food clerk in Santa Paula. Guest said that he works
both Starr and the picket line, which pays him $200 per week
- about a third of his usual weekly paycheck - to help feed his
So as their lives change and the fight drags on, the strikers
scrounge for ways to augment their incomes. As local businesses
grow leaner or fatter with each passing day, those in the lines
outside the markets can only take solace in togetherness, try
to stay in the shade or find auxiliary employment, and hope resolution
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
|Starr Market checkers
have been bustling since the strike began Oct. 11, while other
businesses in the "Y"' have seen a decided decrease
in foot traffic.