About 30 employees hoisted picket signs and gathered peacefully outside each of the South Shore Raley's stores on Monday as part of a regional strike that started on Sunday after contract negotiations between the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Sacramento-based grocery outlet failed.
The strike, the first in Raley's 77-year history, came after talks broke down between the grocery outlet and the union around 2 a.m. on Sunday, UFCW spokesman Mike Henneberry told the Associated Press.
The sides, which have been in negotiation for more than 15 months, are reportedly at odds over a proposed wage freeze, elimination of premium pay for Sunday shifts and health care benefits. After the discussions fell through, about 7,000 employees walked out of more than 120 stores in California and Nevada.
Since the grocery outlet and the union could not come to terms on a new contract for the employees, Raley's had to implement its corporate plan that freezes pay increases for two years and eliminates Sunday and holiday premium pay, Raley's spokesman John Segale said.
"Something like this is a concern for the holidays and beyond. Ultimately it's going to hurt everybody - the store, the employees and the customers," Segale said.
Segale said the impact of the strike fluctuates from store to store, but for the most part business will continue as usual and that none of the stores have closed.
In a neon pink hat and a blue sweatshirt, 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. I'll be out here as long as it takes. My father and my uncles have all been union men," Adams said.
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 dollars 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.
For 25-year Raley's employee Al Foxworthy, the health care issue also sits at the center of the debate.
"I just want to keep what I have. I want to keep my medical benefits when I retire. I have been a company man all those years. I like Raley's and would love to get back to work," Foxworthy said.
According to Segale, the store needs to cut costs during harsh economic times and faces competition from nonunionized competition like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
"We are under some fierce competition and we must reduce our costs to allow us to compete in the future," Segale told the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, both of the Raley's stores in South Lake Tahoe are still open, staffed by a mix of temporary employees, nonunionized workers and those who have crossed the picket line and continue to show up for their shifts as normal.
Debra Hoyopatubbi walked past the strikers on Monday as she entered the Raley's at the 'Y' to get her groceries. Hoyopatubbi said she's been treated very fairly during the 12 years she's worked for the grocery store near Stateline, and she will continue to work and shop at Raley's.
"Greed in our county is huge. We need to count our blessings. I really believe the contract (Raley's CEO) Michael Teel is offering is a very fair one. Each side should give a little in these hard economic times," Hoyopatubbi said.
UFCW 8-Golden State President Jacques Loveall said that the strike is in response to Raley's unfair labor practices, and he would prefer that the issue is resolved before engaging more workers from other Raley's brands.
"Before we move to phase two, we are hopeful this measured action will be effective in bringing Raley's back to the bargaining table. We have additional personnel and resources to escalate the action, if need be. Naturally we prefer to engage in constructive dialogue rather than deepening the wounds," Loveall wrote in an email.
Raley's employs about 250 people in South Lake Tahoe between the two stores. The company employs 13,000 people at 115 California stores and 13 Northern Nevada locations, according to the corporation's website.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report. Look for more to this story as it develops at www.tahoedailytribune.com