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Reality striking for workers

Ryan Carter

Jose Felix, 33, a deli clerk at Ralphs supermarket at 25 E. Alameda

Ave., has seen too much of the 99-Cent Only Store recently.

But living on the cheap has become a necessity for him, his wife

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and their daughter.

His company check, usually just less than $300 after taxes, will

not come Friday. And that has Felix, who lives in Sun Valley, worried

as he remains locked out of his store for a second week.

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“My wife is stressed about the fact that I’m not working,” he

said. “I sense her tension.”

The lack of a check will be the first since the lockout at Ralphs

and Albertsons, following the strike that began at Vons on Oct. 11.

At home, his wife must work overtime to make ends meet.

“It is more of a hardship than anything,” he said. “My wife can

only work for so much.”

But Felix and several others braved the prospect of no pay

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Tuesday, adding they will picket as long as they can.

Negotiations have been suspended in the grocery strike, the first

in the region in 25 years. Local workers join 70,000 others from the

three chains at more than 850 stores from central California to San

Diego.

Issues include managements’ shifting burden of health-care costs

to workers and a new-hire system in which they would work for less.

Workers said the proposed wage system shortchanges new hires,

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increases health-care contribution costs for employees and cuts

retirement benefits. Many of the workers are part-timers, who say

they could not survive with deeper cuts in their checks.

“I’m juggling right now, but the later this thing goes on, it’s

going to get difficult,” said Cheryl Hughes, an assistant merchandise

manager at Ralphs for 20 years and a single mother.

Hughes’ daughter, Mena, 17, also works at a Ralphs in Los Angeles.

She, too, is picketing.

“The doors remain open for the union to come back to the

bargaining table,” Ralphs spokesman Terry O’Neil said. “We need to be

able to control our costs if we are going to remain competitive. If

they don’t come back with that realization, then this labor dispute

could go on for quite a while.”

O’Neil said workers are beginning to feel the heat of no pay as

customers begin to trickle past picket lines.

“This is a hardship on our employees,” O’Neil said. “They won’t

get paid this Friday. There is a concern out there that reality is

striking.”

UFCW officials agreed that strikes are rough. But, they added,

this one is necessary.

“Strikes are hard,” UFCW spokeswoman Barbara Maynard said. “It’s

like in battle, you have your ups and downs, and times when morale is

strong and not as strong.”


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