Picketing workers who have become an all too familiar sight outside local supermarkets are finally back at work. A two-day vote from Feb. 28 to 29 yielded an 86 percent approval of the new union contracts for grocery workers, ending the five-month strike which cost the stores an estimated $2 billion in lost revenue.
The new three-year contract now requires employees to pay for health benefits which previously they did not have to pay for. Although current employees will be exempt from paying premiums for the first two years, new employees hired after Oct. 5, 2003 will only be entitled to a more basic health plan and lower wages.
The contract created a two-tier system in which newer employees have to work their way up the ladder to get raises.
‘The two-tier system made two categories. New employees, who will have to wait longer to qualify for health benefits and older employees whose benefits will be cut back,’ said Angela Walcek, a second-year sociology major and daughter of a 27-year veteran Ralphs employee.
Walcek said this system gives the employer a license to maintain a constant flow of new employees.
‘This new system takes away the incentive to keep employees,’ Walcek said.
Prior to the strike, Walcek said she shopped at Ralphs, but during the strike she shopped mostly at Costco, Stater Bros., Trader Joe’s and Target. Now Welcek is not sure if she wants to resume shopping at the supermarkets, but fears she might have to.
‘I’m so put off by the supermarkets right now. I don’t support the stores because of the way they treated their employees,’ Welcek said. ‘But I’m probably going to be stuck going back there only because of the convenience factor.’
Renee Chow, a fourth-year applied ecology major, worked as a temporary employee at the Albertsons on Campus Drive during the strike.
‘I decided to work for Albertsons because I saw that they were hiring and I really needed the extra money to help pay for my tuition at UCI,’ Chow said.
Chow said the temporary workers had a good relationship with the customers.
‘The customers loved us. On more than one occasion, a customer would inquire about the strike, and comment that the temporary workers were doing a wonderful job because we were so friendly and helpful to everyone,’ Chow commented.
Chow stopped working Albertsons on March 1, after the voting ended and the contract was approved by the union.
Even with the return of the grocery store employees to stores like Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons, alternative stores like Trader Joe’s are not too concerned they will lose the business that soared during the strike.
‘We’ve gained a lot of great customers and I think we’ll continue to stay busy,’ said a Campus Drive Trader Joe’s manager who declined to state his name.
Ed Hamada, store director for the Albertsons on Campus Dr., and assistant store director Teddy Rucker both declined to comment on the newly-approved contract.
Albertsons will now resume its normal business hours from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.
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