A supermarket chain announced Monday that it will close a Fullerton warehouse because the newly ratified contract between Southern California markets and the Teamsters Union does not contain a two-tier wage system that would have cut labor costs.
In protest, about 150 Teamsters demonstrated outside the Alpha Beta warehouse and the office of Teamsters Local 952 in Orange, complaining that officials of their local did not warn them about the probability of closure during the 7 1/2-week supermarket labor dispute.
The warehouse employs 185 Teamsters.
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 Teamsters ratified their contract last Thursday; the meat cutters gave final approval Sunday.
Ironically, the cause of the closure was a contract provision that Teamster negotiators had fought hard to achieve. It gives supermarkets less flexibility in hiring lower-paid workers than the markets had requested.
When negotiations began, the markets proposed that workers hired under the new contract be paid on a separate, drastically lower wage scale. The union contended that the markets would use such a system to force out higher-paid employees. After negotiations appeared to reach a stalemate, the markets threw out the two-tier approach and settled on a compromise under which newly hired workers would start on a lower pay scale and reach the current pay scale after three to five years.
Bill Wade, Alpha Beta senior vice president, said Monday that the process of phasing out the warehouse and closing it “is now under way.” He refused to be more specific.
Wade said Alpha Beta informed Teamsters officials during negotiations that it would close the warehouse unless “competitive wage rates for newly hired employees were a part of any new contract.”
The Teamsters who demonstrated on Monday claimed that union leaders had “sacrificed” them during contract negotiations.
Earl Pedford, union steward at the warehouse, claimed that officials of his local knew of Alpha Beta’s threat to close the warehouse unless the company could operate under a two-tier system.
“That’s an out-and-out lie,” said Gerald Scott, secretary-treasurer of Local 952.
Scott said the announcement of the closure was “a ploy by management to separate us . . . by threatening these people with their jobs.”
Another union official familiar with 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.
Scott said he would meet with Alpha Beta officials later this week in an attempt to negotiate a compromise.
Times staff writer Bob Baker contributed to this story.