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.
“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
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
coverage, while asking workers to shoulder increased medical
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
“What if I get cancer?” he asked. “You might as well take me to
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
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.