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East Los Angeles : Ex-Workers Picket New Markets

Former employees of the JonSons Markets and members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union are picketing the company that bought the buildings, accusing it of hiring new workers at lower wages and providing fewer benefits.

JonSons closed its locations at 4831 and 3425 Whittier Blvd. on Jan. 7, giving 150 employees 30 days’ notice that they would be out of their jobs. K. V. Mart Co. of Long Beach bought the buildings and opened Top Valu markets at those locations in the last two weeks.

According to District Manager Rod Simpson, K. V. Mart received applications from 5,000 people and hired 140 in time for the stores’ openings.

Of those who applied, just 8% were former JonSons employees, said Steve Gigliotti, an attorney for K. V. Mart, and fewer than half of them were hired. He could not say exactly how many former employees are working at the two markets.

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The union picketed a Valu Plus Food Warehouse opening in Maywood last week, with about 70 people yelling for higher wages for employees. Valu Plus and Top Valu markets are owned by K. V. Mart Co.

Among the picketers was Abdom Pinon, 44, who had worked for JonSons for 18 years and was an assistant manager when the store closed.

He and other former employees and union officials said K. V. Mart did not hire many former JonSons employees because it feared they might vote in a union contract.

“They’re paying $8 an hour for an experienced cashier and I was making $14.50,” said Thanh-Thuy Alvarez, 26, who had worked at JonSons for nine years. “What I liked about it the best was the benefits, because when you have kids and you need to take them to the doctor, that was always available.”

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Cashiers at the Top Valu markets make $6 to $12 an hour, said Simpson, who added that K. V. Mart did not buy out JonSons and has no obligation to run the markets as JonSons did.

Protesters said many of the workers are denied full medical coverage because they are not full-time employees.

Simpson said 95% of the workers qualify for full benefits without paying into the plan. The rest do not qualify for the package because they work fewer than 24 hours per week, he said.

The union plans continuous demonstrations at K. V. Mart stores over the next several weeks to discourage shoppers from frequenting them, said Brian J. Young, assistant to the director of special projects and organizing for the UFCW Local No. 770.

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Young said non-union companies have an unfair advantage over markets with union contracts because labor costs are much lower. Pickets distributed leaflets with names and locations of markets that have union contracts and asked shoppers to spend their money in union stores.


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