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Strike benefits smaller stores

Ryan Carter

Handy Market Manager Mario Calderon has been working at the venerable

independent grocery store for about 17 years, but not since the Los

Angeles riots in 1992 and the Northridge earthquake in 1994 has he


seen the surge of customers he has seen recently.

The supermarket strike that has locked-out employees picketing

outside local Vons, Albertsons, Ralphs and Pavilions since Saturday

has had a collateral effect. Customers who are not crossing picket


lines are hitting the smaller stores, like Handy Market, to buy their


Calderon said the store has been so swamped since the start of the

strike Saturday night that the market’s management has had to hire

new help. The 35-year-old Magnolia Boulevard store’s volume is up 30%

to 40%, and that is a conservative estimate, he said.

Burbank is home to three Ralphs stores, along with one Pavilions,

three Vons and one Albertsons.


“We’ll be empty by Wednesday if this keeps up,” Calderon said.

In the strike, employees who are members of the United Food and

Commercial Workers International -- upset about a shifting

health-cost burden that will be taken out of their checks under

recent contract proposals -- are asking customers not to cross picket

lines and to go to other markets. Management counters that salaries

remain competitive, but low profit margins in a competitive industry

are driving the cuts.


Ironically, it’s the smaller niche food stores that are playing a

role in what is a cutthroat grocery business, said Jack Kyser, chief

economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. The coupling

of competition from the large “super center” stores such as Costco

and the smaller, neighborhood chains is forcing the grocery companies

to cut back, he said.

Local observers said the issue was almost inevitable.

“This is a reality that is facing more and more employees,” said

Susan Bowers, Burbank Chamber of Commerce executive director,

referring to the shifting health-care burden toward employees.

Some believe the strike is a signal of what many have said is a

troubling issue of rising benefit costs paid by employees.

“I can see [management’s] argument,” said Steve Gruhlke,

controller for Burbank-based Beach Grocery Co., which has markets in

Rosemead and Downey. “I think they are seeing what we are all seeing

-- that there are tremendous contributions to pay, and that our

workers’ compensation premiums have skyrocketed. It’s very serious.”