The Renegade Rip

‘All we want is to keep our benefits’

Julianna Crisalli

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The virtually empty parking lot of the Vons supermarket at Stockdale Highway and California Avenue and the “honk to support” picket signs spoke for themselves.

The grocery workers’ union asked employees of Vons to go on strike Oct. 11 because of proposed cutbacks in health care benefits. A proposed new contract eliminated some health care benefits, and according to a Stockdale’s Vons manager, Anne Magana, employees will be expected to pay from 20 percent to 50 percent of their benefits.

According to an Oct. 27 article in The Sacramento Bee, long-term employees were receiving generous health and pension plans. But to compete with superstores like Wal-Mart, grocery chains want to cut health care costs and create two levels of pay.

About 70,000 employees said they are willing to pay $5 and $15 premiums. The reason for their strike is the possible elimination of health benefits, according to The Bee.

“All we want is to keep our benefits,” said Magana. “We want to keep exactly what we have right now. We’re not asking for anymore. We’re not asking for more pay, we’re not asking to get more than we have. We are just asking to keep what we already had.”

Vons is not the only supermarket affected by the proposed cut in benefits. Ralphs and Albertson’s employees were locked out. They will remain locked out until Vons resolves the issue and union employees return to work.

Despite repeated attempts, The Rip was unable to contact union representatives or management officials.

“They are not negotiating right now,” Magana said. “They haven’t brought anything new to the table. It could last a couple of weeks, but hopefully not much longer than that. I don’t think people can afford to go on much longer than that. We are just asking people to shop at other stores for the time being because as soon as the corporations start to lose money, you know, they’ll want us back in there.”

Employees of Vons and other affected supermarkets picket outside their stores encouraging incoming customers to shop elsewhere.

Currently working in the stores are temporary employees who crossed the picket line. According to Vons employee Jimmy Chavez, the short-term help has no experience. They are simply hired off the streets and are making more than the permanent employees were making.

“They hire people right off the street,” said Chavez. “They have like no experience, no hours of training, where some of us here have like 25 years of experience. Even managers are out here picketing. Scabs get about 17 to 19 dollars an hour. I get $9.78.”

Striking employees from all three supermarkets will receive $200 per week from union funds, a cut in pay that is hard to accept, according to Vons employee Linda Valenti. She has worked there for 25 years. She explained they have not experienced a strike since the year she was hired. She, like many others, makes an average of $500 in a normal week.

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The news site of Bakersfield College
‘All we want is to keep our benefits’