Strikers out in the cold
By Jesse Phelps
It has gone from the late summer
scorch to winter chills and still they stand on the cold sidewalks
outside their erstwhile place of business, signs in hand.
Nearly six weeks into their stand, the striking Ojai Vons workers
have coffee, a mascot and a utilitarian propane heater for these
colder nights. There's a feeling of permanence about their circumstance,
but they insist they believe things will eventually turn in their
"We can see the light at the end of the tunnel," said
Dawn Clark late Monday night, as she and her fellows huddled
around the heater for warmth.
The strikers say it's difficult to subsist on the $225 per week,
or in the case of courtesy clerks, or baggers, $125, that they
are receiving from the union. Clark said that because her boyfriend
works at Vons in Ventura and she has three kids to feed, the
strike makes things even harder on her household.
Despite these concerns, the chill and the fact that it's been
well over a month without solid steps forward, the strikers are
making the best of the rough conditions. They even have a sense
of humor about their predicament. Clark said she doesn't want
to train any of her fellows to work the coffeemaker she brought
because, since they don't know how, she's become indispensable
in her new position.
"There's no coffee without Dawn. We don't know how to work
it," said AdrianaOrtiz.
"This'll keep me around longer," said Clark.
The heater is another story. It's on every night, especially
as the weather continues to turn toward the bitter. "It
was brought in by one of night crew," said Clark. "They
stay out here all night long and it gets very cold out here."
"We've got to wear layers of clothes," said Ortiz,
who is attempting to raise two small girls on a combination of
her striker's salary and a side job in photography.
Other strikers haven't been as lucky as Ortiz in their efforts
to find supplementary employment, even temporary seasonal work.
"Some places that I have gone in and put applications in
won't hire us because we are on strike," said Clark. "They
don't want to hire striking people because they think thatwhen
when the strike's over, we're just going to quit."
"I just haven't got called back on any of my applications,"
said Mitzi Everitt. "I've put out four."
And, they say, it's no picnic doing the work of a striker. A
van the strikers said contains a constantly running surveillance
setup is the lone vehicle parked on the Vons end of the lot on
this night. It speeds away as it is approached with camera and
The strikers say there is no love lost between themselves and
the scabs, or workers who have crossed the line, either. There
have been harsh words "both ways," admits one of the
Samson is a large dogowned by striker Andy Zahn. The dog serves
as the group's mascot, decked out in striker regalia. He's cute
and friendly but vary big. One gets the sense that he's watching
over and protecting the night shift from strange vans and strange
"You don't feel totally safe. No one wants to stand around
outside a store in the middle of the night," said one striker.
But things could be worse. Their spirits bolstered by thrice-weekly
visits from union representatives and the hearty support of many
in the community, the workers say they appreciate the good intentions
exhibited by those around them.
"I want to tell the community thank you for all their support
and there are angels out there and we could not do it without
them," said Clark. "We need their support. It's getting
to the holidays and ifpeople start coming in here and shopping,
we're going to be out here until who-kowns-when. We appreciate
all the support we're getting from everybody."
They say that there are "little groups" of people who
cross the lines but that, for the most part, the flowinto the
store has been minimal.
Lyn Beck is one shopper who has been taking her business elsewhere.
She shops for a household of five people and several pets andsaid
she misses the convenience of shopping at Vons, which is three
blocks from her house.
"The grocery store is like my second home, I'm there so
much," she said. These days she shops at Starr Market and,
occassionally, Ralphs in Ventura.
Beck said she likes supporting the local grocer and recognizes
the effort of Starr to stock more items at reasonable prices
on its shelves. Beck said it's a tough issue but feels that if
the strike ends, she'll return to Vons as her primary store.
At the Ojai Vons, a scab crew of less than a couple dozen has
replaced a usual employee roster of over 100, say the strikers.
And the stores, while receiving some stock from scab drivers
who cross the lines, are getting emptier and emptier.
The union representatives, meanwhile, have been providing free
groceries to the strikers, in addition to their morale-boosting
"We need someone to keep us motivated," said Clark.
For now, however, the strikers maintain a united front and a
sense of optimism despite trying circumstances. "We're
willing to do this, we believe in what we're doing," Clark
Zahn said she hopes the union succeeds, not just for the sake
of the strikers, but for the sake of workers everywhere, union
and non-union alike. "It's like they're trying to take
candy away from a baby but they're not succeeding," said
Zahn, who works in the Ojai Vons deli.
"They want the rich to be real, real rich and everybody
else to be extremely poor. (The supermarket executives don't)
want us to help people like Wal-Mart employees come up to a standard
of living where they can actually feed their families and keep
a roof over their heads."
Negotiations between the two sides began again on Tuesday with
an independent arbitrator. "He took a break, was gathering
information and he's bringing them all back to the table tomorrow,"
The strikers are hoping resolution comes soon. "I want it
to stop," Clark said. "I don't want to be out here
through the holidays. I don't want my kids to have nothing for
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
DANE MIX SAMPSON, owned by Andy Zahn, keeps an eye on the goings-on
outside Vons, nearly six weeks into the strike. Both sides recently
returned to the bargaining table.