About 150 Teamsters demonstrated outside a warehouse and union offices in Orange County on Monday, protesting the union’s failure to tell them that under the contract just approved they are losing their jobs.
Alpha Beta Supermarkets announced Monday that it plans to close its Fullerton warehouse because the newly ratified contract between Southern California markets and the Teamsters does not contain a two-tier wage system to cut labor costs.
Union Jackets Burned
Three members of the group burned their Teamsters jackets outside the union’s headquarters at 140 S. Marks Way in Orange, chanting, “They burned us!” and “Come on, let us in, back stabbers!”
Gerald Scott, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters union Local 952, later admitted them into a meeting hall and talked privately to the group. Reporters and photographers were forced to leave after shouting began.
Earl Pedford, the union steward at the Alpha Beta Sunrich Mercantile shipment warehouse at 444 Lambert Road in Fullerton, displayed a photostat copy of a certified letter dated Dec. 27 that was sent to Scott by John H. Gibson, an Alpha Beta vice president. The letter said Alpha Beta planned to close the warehouse, which employs 185 Teamsters.
After the tense, 40-minute meeting with the 150 workers, Scott denied that he had received the letter.
Pedford said he had obtained the letter Sunday but declined to say how.
‘Ploy by Management’
Scott said: “We did not receive the original letter. That’s an out-and-out lie.” The letter, he said, “is a ploy by management to separate us . . . by threatening these people with their jobs.”
Alpha Beta Senior Vice President Bill Wade said Monday that the company would not have closed the warehouse if the markets had been successful in their negotiations.
“Prior to the beginning of negotiations, the leadership of the Teamsters local representing workers in Alpha Beta’s general merchandise warehouse was informed that unless competitive wage rates for newly hired employees was a part of any new contract, the warehouse would be phased out and eventually closed,” Wade said. “The process is now under way.”
Alpha Beta officials had no comment beyond Wade’s statement.
Pressure Tactic Cited
Another union official familiar with the contract negotiations said he believes that Alpha Beta’s closure announcement is intended to pressure officials of Local 952 to approve a separate agreement that would put newly hired workers on a permanent second wage tier. Under the new contract, union locals are allowed to negotiate supplemental provisions with employers.
Scott said he will meet with Gibson on Thursday to negotiate the closing of the warehouse.
“We’ll do everything possible to keep them from closing the warehouse, or at least place them (the workers) in other jobs, if that happens,” Scott said. “But we are trying to keep the warehouse open.”
Scott said he will meet with the 185 affected Teamster members again on Saturday to report on his meeting with Alpha Beta officials. But he denied that those workers had been “sacrificed” when the 12,000 Teamsters members ratified the new contract. Local 952 was the only one of 12 locals in Southern California that rejected the new pact.
‘Was No Sellout’
“No way in hell,” Scott told reporters. “There was no sellout. There is no sellout. I resent that accusation.”
Pedford, a 10-year Alpha Beta employee, had complained earlier that union officials did not warn them about the possibility of closure during the 7 1/2-week supermarket labor dispute.
He also said that half of the 185 Teamsters are to report to work next Monday, but that he expected that some would get termination notices at that time. Pedford estimated that the warehouse could be closed within three months.
As many as 300 workers, including truck drivers, would be affected, he said.
Alpha Beta’s announcement came as thousands of Teamsters and meat cutters prepared to return to their jobs after the end of the strike and lockout, which affected 22,000 workers and nearly 1,000 stores.
The fact that the first public consequence of the new contract was a warehouse closure was ironic.
When the Teamsters ratified their new contract last week, they expressed satisfaction that it gave supermarkets less flexibility in hiring lower-paid workers than the markets had originally requested.
When negotiations began, the markets proposed that all workers hired under the new contract be paid a separate, drastically lower wage scale. After weeks of stalemated talks, the markets threw out this so-called two-tier approach and settled on a compromise in which newly hired workers would start at a lower pay scale but join the current pay scale after they had worked three to five years.