Grocery Strike

I’ve held off publishing this for a while because I’ve been angry about some things I’ve witnessed. But a few weeks have passed, and despite the fact that the picketers have moved on to another store, I realize I’m not going to feel any better about it.

I have never been terribly supportive of the union in this pathetic grocery strike. But as this thing enters its sixth week, I find myself hoping that the strikers never get their jobs back.

It has nothing to do with the issues they’re striking over. It has everything to do with the conduct of the picketers. It’s been pathetic. No–more than that, it’s been criminal.

I’ve seen pregnant women heckled as they entered the Ralph’s near my house.

I’ve seen rocks thrown at cars.

And one day as I was passing by this Ralph’s, I heard one of the strikers extorting food from a local pizza joint. He called the restaurant on his cell phone and said that if the picketers weren’t provided with several pizzas gratis, “we’ll remember you” and there would be “hell to pay” when the strike was over.

So screw ’em. I’m not anti-union–heck, I belong to a union myself–but I’ve had it with stuff like that. Or this. Or this. Or this.

The selection at my local Ralph’s is poor, the quality of produce mediocre, and the store hours limited. But I’ll live on Top Ramen for the rest of my life before I give people like that a single iota of support.

I’m also happy to report that the store runs just fine without them. Whoever Ralph’s got to fill in for the baggers and checkers is doing a perfectly acceptable job. The problems with the quality and selection of food are caused by truckers who refuse to cross the picket line. It has nothing to do with the replacement workers.

I almost wish the picketers would heckle me. It would give me a chance to ask them what they expect families to do. The strike is affecting every grocery store in my area except for Gelson’s (which is prohibitively expensive) and Stater Brothers (which is 20 minutes away and now jam-packed with people all day long). Eating is not an option.

It may seem unfair to judge tens of thousands of union members based on the actions of a few miscreants. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Every time a pilot does or says something stupid, it affects my whole industry–that’s why pilots know they have to police themselves. Should I hold an unskilled part-time grocery clerk to a lesser standard?

I don’t think so.

  19 comments for “Grocery Strike

  1. Jon
    November 25, 2003 at 10:50 am

    I say screw ’em. I had to pay more for health insurance this past year and it’s going up quite a bit again for next year. Everybody’s got to deal with it. I don’t know what makes these grocery clerks so much more special that they should get some sort of preferential treatment.

  2. November 25, 2003 at 11:48 am

    The difference? They have a union and you don’t. 🙂

  3. November 26, 2003 at 5:09 pm

    yay! i had a similar tirade on this very topic a few weeks ago: (crap, my october archives are down, but if you care, scroll around in there sometime.)

    i say fuck ’em. they’re lame. i can’t believe how many people are supporting it and have avoided the chains affected. and how many people have elected to go ahead and go to ralph’s just because the picketers aren’t there. it’s an intangible picket line now, people, but STILL A PICKET LINE. it’s no different than last week when you REFUSED to shop here.

    eh. i’m going to albertson’s, dammit. but i admit the picketers scare me a little.

  4. November 26, 2003 at 6:37 pm

    Don’t be intimidated by the strikers. I spent some time watching them when they were picketing the Ralph’s near my house, and I noticed a pattern. They would pick on old people, women, and anyone who looked timid. But a big strong guy? Not a word.

    Have you heard about this latest move from the Teamsters to cut off food supplies to the stores during Thanksgiving? Makes me more determined than ever to cross their lines. In fact, I live right near a Ralph’s, but I’m going to Albertsons now specifically to walk through those picketers.

  5. Joel
    December 12, 2003 at 12:43 am

    I never heard of worker’s that don’t pay for medical benefits before, I have always paid for mine, Presently I find myself and other hundreds of people without a job working temporary until the strike is over at the Ralph’s warehouse, we were struggling financially and it’s sad but this became a blessing for us, at first, I felt bad going through the picketer’s line, but now, by the way they behave even displaying signs with bad words on the windshields of cars going out (the police had to come to stop them)I don’t feel sorry anymore, and I rather support my co-workers who are really in need working hard 12 hours a day, six days a week, than those picketers who I believe they are not really well educated in which they are asking for.

    December 17, 2003 at 8:37 am


  7. Vic
    December 21, 2003 at 4:24 pm


    I have 60 or so Strikers BBQing, a fire pit, tents, TV playing football in my shopping center, like they are at the Beach.

    They park infront of my business adjacent to the grocery store and are choking my business’s.

    It’s over people, give up…..


  8. December 22, 2003 at 12:16 pm

    That’s quite a setup they have there. I hope they at least cook you up a hot dog once in a while. Maybe if you patronize the grocery store enough they’ll move.

  9. Chris Lyons
    December 29, 2003 at 1:20 pm

    Should we teach our kids to cowardly back down when they feel they are being victims of a wrongdoing?

    Would people gain more support and respect by staying home and crossing their fingers?

    I apologize wholeheartedly for the rude and inconsiderate behavior displayed by any picketers. The past 11 weeks have been like nothing I ever could have imagined.

    70,000 supermarket employees are locked out or on strike. Some of us have given 15 or more years of our lives to our compaines and in return been given a cold shoulder. The employees have built up the company. We are the ones that deal with the public/customers and do evertything we can to provide, “Fast, Friendly Service.” “Service First, Second to None” etc…..

    I will be out picketing in support of my job, which has provided me a decent living in return for a lot of hard work.

    I would like to thank all those who have been supporting us. I know this disruption in everyones lives has not been easy.

    For those of you who could careless, keep in mind that those of us at Albertson’s and Ralphs are LOCKED-OUT, not on strike. We are not allowed to go back and work. We have no choice. Yes, we could resign from the union, but, if we want to stick up for ourselves, and continue to provide for our families, then we have to stay strong and stand up to these companies.

    What would you do?

  10. Ron
    December 29, 2003 at 2:53 pm

    Re: “what would you do?”

    If I was in the shoes of someone working at a grocery store, I might be on strike, but I sure wouldn’t be using the tactics the union or its members have chosen. As I said in the article, my objections have nothing to do with the issues you are on strike over. It has everything to do with the methods.

    For example, cutting off the distribution centers before the holidays. That was a bad PR move if you wish to portray yourselves as forced out instead of walking out.

    Perhaps the biggest problem is that the grocery stores are trying to keep the stores open for customers, while the union seems to be doing everything possible to close them off. The people who need to eat (and I think that’s just about everyone) see this as an attack on them. Add to this the well-publicized poor behavior by some strikers, and it’s clear why public support has not been more forthcoming.

    However I wish you luck in achieving your goals with the strike. I assume the union thought the strike wouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks, because at this point the money you’ve lost in wages would more than compensate for anything you might gain from the Ralph’s or Albertsons when you go back to work.

    Will you remain on strike forever? If not, at what point will you either take another job or ask for your old one back?

  11. Chris Lyons
    December 30, 2003 at 12:51 pm

    You mentioned, “I sure wouldn’t be using the tactics the union or its members have chosen.” I must remind people that those tactics you speak of have been chosen (unfortunately) by a select few.

    I am doing my best to remember that you are not on either side. My immediate reaction when I sense criticism is to take a defensive stand. If I were a customer, I too would be tired of this inconvenience.

    If cutting off the distribution centers before the holidays was seen as a bad PR move, then, I hope removing the picket lines at the distribution/warehouse facilities on Monday, December 22, 2003 would be seen as a good one.

    I am a firm believer that public opinion can decide who wins this battle, if a winner is even possible at this point. A full-time food clerk has lost about $13,174.00 in wages alone the three stores have lost over a billion. The customers seem to have given a lot of support, but how long can it continue? It was said in the beginning, and now I am afraid it just might come true, everyone will feel great loss. Just get us back to work and let’s move on from there.

    How much better off would all involved would have been if the Stores and Union had worked together to fight Wal-mart instead of crippling each other?

    The only people that seem to be enjoying this situation are:

    Steve Burd (Safeway CEO)
    Insider filings showed a rigorous, repeated exercise of stock options during the month leading up to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, an AFL-CIO affiliate, (UFCW) strike which took place one week after Burd’s last sale.
    Burd, who had himself not commented on the strike in a press release made by Safeway October 6th, had sold 50,000 shares at $23.1592 a share for $1,157,960 dollars that very day, his last reported sale. Burd had exercised options that same day for 50,000 shares at a cost of $328,125, or $6.56 a share, racking a cool profit of over $829,835 dollars before taxes.

    Larry Johnston (Albertsons CEO)
    Of course, plenty of top honchos still made out like it was the ’90s.
    Larry Johnston, who left General Electric’s appliance division to lead the Boise-based Albertson’s grocery chain, took home $28.25 million in his first year. For slightly more than eight months of work, Johnston earned nearly $1 million in salary, a $2.5 million bonus, more than $24.5 million in restricted stock awards — and $60,000 in moving expenses.
    In the low-margin grocery business, Johnston’s pay represented 5.5 percent of the entire company’s net profit of $501 million and earned him the honor of being the highest-paid executive in the Northwest.
    Through a spokesman, Johnston declined to comment.

    We would have liked our jobs back before Thanksgiving, and before Christmas. We would like like our jobs back now. It is now at the point for most of us that we can no longer hold out. Too much longer and even a victory will be a defeat.

  12. Ron
    December 30, 2003 at 2:29 pm

    You are correct, the bad behavior comes from a small segment of the union membership. But it colors the public’s perception of the whole strike. Sad as it may be, every time I drive past that Ralph’s, all I can think about is that picketer extorting food from a local restaurant.

    CEO compensation is a problem across the board in the corporate world. They make a lot of money regardless of how well a company does. I’m not sure the CEO situation would be any different if we were discussing tech companies or textile conglomerates instead of the grocery sector. It’s a problem that needs to be fixed, but I don’t think it’s grocery-specific.

    If the Teamsters blockade of the distribution centers was lifted, that will be a positive PR move for your union, yes.

    If the union membership shares your desire to get back to work, perhaps the negotiations can focus on that. Perhaps they would trade an end to the Safeway picketing for an end to the lockout at Ralph’s and Albertson’s. The contract can still be hashed out while you guys work. This frequently happens in the aviation sector.

    This strike was a bad deal for the union members. I hate to say it, but it was relatively easy to get replacement workers.

    Strikes tend to have more success at places like Boeing or the airlines where experienced aerospace engineers or appropriately rated pilots simply cannot be obtained. The company comes to a grinding halt. The grocery business is not quite like that.

  13. Chris Lyons
    January 1, 2004 at 2:06 am

    Over the three-year period ending December 31, 2002, the top fifteen executive officers of Albertson’s, Kroger and Safeway increased their compensation (salaries, bonuses, stock awards, and other annual compensation) by more than one hundred and fifty percent, from an aggregate total of $15.4 million in 1999, to $40.3 million in 2002. Stated differently, 2002 compensation is 260% of 1999 compensation.

    Thus, average annual compensation per executive increased from $1,026,030 to $2,683,579 over this three-year period

    If stock options are included in these figures, total aggregate compensation received by these 15 corporate officers increased from $35 million in 1999, to more than $70 million last year.

    Safeway officers and directors own 27.7 million shares of company stock (5.04% of the company), while CEO Burd alone owns 6.2 million shares (1.39%). When Burd reaches retirement age in 2014, he will also receive an estimated annual retirement benefit of $733,913. This represents a 10.5% increase (from $663,911) over three years ago.

    When Albertson’s hired CEO Larry Johnston away from GE in 2001, management entered into an employment agreement that guarantees his base salary, bonuses, and other benefits for ten years. This includes full company payment for his health care coverage and retirement.

  14. Al
    January 8, 2004 at 8:16 am

    I know the CEO’s make a lot of money – in fact, they make absurd amounts of money. But what’s the solution??? It might be nice if they were to give you a bigger share, but you can’t FORCE them to do it. People in this society, whether CEO’s or janitors, have the freedom to do what they want with their money – I’m not saying this is necessarily the BEST way, but it is the way things work here. Anything else would fall under the category of redistribution or wealth – i.e. socialism. People like Henry Ford paid his workers very well, and was rewarded by a loyal and happy worker base. This was his choice, and he reaped the benefits. I wish people would not criticize the status quo without offering a viable alternative or solution.

  15. Vic Volley
    January 13, 2004 at 2:17 pm

    They have been breaking up the union for years. As a formal meat cutter for Ralph’s, I was only given the position once I started repeating that I work for Ralph’s not the union. Once I was ready to leave, all I had to do is rub Chuck Jackson and Mike Blackwell the wrong way. The Bigot Fucks did the rest…

    Blackwell was a Bitch and couldn’t take me out, so he finally got sick of me and asked me to quit. At the moment I had nothing better to do with my time but watch and learn how a man of his statue would take out an honest worker.

    It is true that Mike Blackwell used to go into the computer and edit time. John Cortez and Greg Conger from local 324 Union knew of this but they were afraid of that Kiss Ass Bitch. Chuck Jackson used to have the company men/Boys Club put select beef in the Choice section. Yea…

    I would have to say Thank You to these fine up standing citizen’s of life because without you and the wealth of information you have provided me, (even though you were against me)I would not be nearly as successful as I am today. I still feel guilty for all the people that I terminated under your command.

    Greg Conger and John Cortez are powerless and have always been. I am sure they walked away with Golden Umbrella’s and Health Care.

    As for all of you Meat Cutters, Unskilled cashiers and produce worker’s. You knew this day was coming, stop the bleeding and go find a job. There is plenty of opportunity waiting for you.
    I still can’t figure out why all of you striking people have not filed a law suit against Ralph’s and Von’s for overtime issues. Your weak….
    Form your own Union and Sue the Grocery stores and the Union.

    Chuck Jackson, if you ever read this, remember
    “I am here to make money not friends”

    I’ll keep my eye out for you and Mike in the real world…

    I beat you at your own game. Remember that!

    If my old Boss is still around, tell him to look me up…

    Vic Volley

  16. Chris Lyons
    January 15, 2004 at 9:57 am

    I no longer have time to respond here…

    I hope the battle is over soon.

  17. karyl
    February 4, 2004 at 8:49 pm

    keep the faith, chris! if this country wasn’t so selfish, the strike would be over.

  18. James Slusser
    February 16, 2004 at 2:24 am

    I am hoping this link is now dead since we are now in our 5th sad month of the LOCKOUT….Yet if not, SHAME ON YOU people for cheering on the action of these companies….
    I agree with the early postings that pickters should NOT treat people with flat out disrespect…..But the writer sights ONE store, out of the 70,000 people suffering through this history making- yet life destorying event……
    Rid of us and you rid of blue collar America…We are not millionares out fighting for a crazy contract……..We are working class, barely making our bills as it is people saying ” Don’t let these HUGE MONEY MACHINE of companies throw us under the bus…Mind you I am young and college educated…I am not bound to eternal grocery work……Yet I see clearly what is happening will effect ALL of California…….I am sorry for how the few rude class less pickters treated people, but don’t let it detour you from the bigger picture- MIDDLE CLASS AMERICA IS HINGED ON THIS STRIKE….

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