INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - Roughly 20 employees working in shifts and toting picket signs have assembled peacefully this week near the three public entrances to the Raley's supermarket in Incline Village, days after thousands of employees went on strike at more than 100 stores in California and Nevada due to a long-standing labor dispute with the Sacramento-based private grocery chain.
A handful of store managers and other employees identifying themselves as being "on Raley's side" also have roamed the parking lot at the store just off Highway 28, the entire scene being monitored by a few security personnel from the Reno-based company ESI Security Services, there to ensure protests remained civil.
The strike, the first against Raley's in its 77-year-history, came after all-day talks Saturday failed to secure a new contract for the employees, according to the Associated Press. A midnight deadline was extended at the request of a federal mediator, but talks broke down around 2 a.m. Sunday, said Mike Henneberry, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
About four hours later, union workers and other employees with picket signs were at the Incline Village Raley's, along with many of the other 128 grocery stores throughout Northern California and Nevada, expressing their displeasure with the privately owned supermarket chain and encouraging residents to shop elsewhere at "fair-minded Union employers."
Both sides are reportedly at odds over a proposed wage freeze, elimination of premium pay for Sunday shifts and health care benefits. Raley's says it needs to cut costs in the face of a weak economy and competition from nonunionized companies that also sell groceries, such as Walmart, while union officials say the chain has not agreed to a full audit of its finances, and has been bargaining in bad faith since contract negotiations began.
The sides have been in negotiation for more than 15 months. Raley's spokesman John Segale said implementation of the corporate plan was necessary without an agreed bargain.
"The union has never let their members vote on their last and final offer, so we had no choice but to begin implementation," Segale said. "So what that wage portion of the contract does is it freezes pay increases for two years and eliminates Sunday and holiday premium pay."
According to a UFCW news release, union attorneys filed unfair labor practices charges due to violation of laws prohibiting harassment, circumventing the union's authority as a bargaining agent and submitting proposals that are worse than previous offers.
"A tragic mistake would be for Raley's management to interpret the union's fairness for weakness," said Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW 8-Golden State.
Segale said that despite the strike, all of the company's stores will be open as usual, albeit with replacement workers helping run operations. The Incline Village store has signs posted on its front windows informing people the store is "OPEN to serve you" and advertising immediate job openings for "Replacement Workers."
Locally, there is one Raley's store in Incline Village - which is currently undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation, according to previous reports, expected to finish by February 2013 - and two in South Lake Tahoe, as well others in Reno, Carson City, Sparks and Gardnerville. UFCW says it represents 7,400 of the chain's employees.
Not all locations are a part of a union, Segale said, and different departments of the store are a part of varying unions. Further, while the Incline Village location is affected, no other stores in Nevada are part of the strike.
"Workers are members of seven different unions," Segale said. "Some members may have decided to honor the picket line and not cross, but that's more of a support for a union, not necessarily their union that is striking. It varies from store to store."
On Lake Tahoe's South Shore, picketers were out this week at both Raley's stores. Strike Leader Luke Adams stood outside the Raley's near Stateline with a UFCW sign in his hand. He's worked for the company for the last 12 years on the South Shore, but he said he had no qualms when it came to joining the picket line.
"The benefits we have are going into corporate hands, and we've got to keep them," Adams said Monday. "I'll be out here as long as it takes. There's no fear involved."
Adams, who earned $21 per hour as the store's head meat cutter, said he's willing to take a severe pay cut - the union will pay him $100 for the first week of the strike - to fight for what many of the strikers said on Monday was their main concern: health care benefits for retirees.
This week in Incline Village, local union members handed out literature encouraging to-be shoppers to "please don't shop at Raley's" and asking them to "go down to Safeway in Kings Beach," while members of the other side encouraged residents and visitors to go inside and shop.
West Sacramento-based Raley's employs 13,000 people at 115 stores in California and 13 in Nevada operating under the Raley's name, as well as Bel Air Markets, Nob Hill Foods, Food Source and Aisle 1 Fuel Stations, according to its website.
- Tahoe Daily Tribune reporter Axie Navas and The Union reporter Jennifer Terman contributed to this report.