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A striking mood in Burbank

Ryan Carter

Chris Imamura, a produce clerk at Ralphs, had to pause for a moment

as the hot sun Tuesday reflected the tears that rolled down his face

as he stood outside the store with a picket sign in hand.

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“I’m sorry,” he said. “We just wanted to thank people for their

support. People are like family.”

It was an odd position for Imamura. Between the old Hughes market

and Ralphs, he has spent 24 years in the grocery business having

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people thank him for his help, many whom he knows by name. And now,

he’s locked out of his store.

He and his colleagues have spent the past four days picketing

outside of the Ralphs at 1100 N. San Fernando Road. They have the

same demands as the other workers at the two other Burbank Ralphs,

the Pavilions, three Vons and one Albertsons. They lamented recent

contract proposals that their union, United Food and Commercial

Workers Union, says entail a 50% decrease in workers’ medical

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coverage, while asking workers to shoulder increased medical

payments.

Imamura said he has been able to carve out a career with hours

that suit him. But he worries about others like his girlfriend, a

Ralphs part-time employee who makes barely more than minimum wage.

And he worried about his own ability to pay for his own health

coverage.

“What if I get cancer?” he asked. “You might as well take me to

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the animal shelter and give me a shot.”

Officials from the Kroger Co., which owns Ralphs, said that all of

its stores in Southern California were open while thousands of local

temps and managers from other divisions of the company replaced

locked-out employees.

Workers announced the strike on Saturday, adding that they would

target Vons markets for walkouts. But a strike against one was a

walkout against all of the grocery stores, according to company

officials who had earlier agreed that employees from the other stores

would be locked out as a defensive tactic. On Tuesday, the union sued

Albertsons and Ralphs for locking out employees.

Management has said that employee benefit packages remain

competitive in a tough compensation market.

“As responsible companies, we are seeking nothing more than a fair

contract that will help us to remain competitive in the face of

soaring health- care and benefit costs and increased competition from

lower-cost operators,” Ralphs President John Burgon released in a

statement last week.

A company statement said that it is asking for employees to share

in paying $5 a week for single coverage and $10 to $15 for an entire family. But workers said Tuesday that is misleading.

Many non-management workers work only part-time, so $15 a week is

a huge chunk of their check.

“Unfortunately, both sides are losers in this,” said Steve

Gruhlke, controller for Beach Grocery Co. in Burbank.


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