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Picket signs hung with care

Ryan Carter

Santa did not stop at the picket lines this year, but with a little

help from colleagues and special friends, striking and locked-out

supermarket workers are making the best of the holiday season.

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“It doesn’t feel like Christmas this year,” said Chris Imamura, a

produce clerk at a Ralphs store on San Fernando Boulevard. “It’s just

another day.”

Imamura and others picketing outside of the Albertsons on Glenoaks

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Boulevard in Glendale on Friday each pitched in a few dollars for

their Christmas Eve party, which included their picket signs, a few

large pizzas and a salad. It was a far cry from previous parties.

Picketers did not demonstrate on Christmas Day.

Since Oct. 11, Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons employees -- many who

work part time -- have been on strike in response to increased

medical insurance costs, which they claim will take big chunks out of

their paychecks.

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Representatives of the companies that own the markets say that in

an industry with low profit margins and intense competition from

big-box wholesalers and independent chains, employees must give up

more of their wages for medical benefits.

Raquel Hernandez, a service deli manager at a Burbank Ralphs who

picketed in Glendale on Friday, said being locked out of her place of

employment the past few months is taking its toll. Hernandez had to

tell her 11-year-old daughter that she had no gifts because the

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family with seven children had to cut back on expenses.

“My little one was really sad,” Hernandez said. “It was the first

year with no presents.”

Fortunately, many picketers prepared themselves and their families

for a holiday season with a little less spirit and fewer material

items.

“We cut down on expenses,” said Chuck Sheardown, an assistant

merchandiser at the Burbank Ralphs who was picketing at the Glendale

Albertsons. “But we are in debt now.”

Some picketers, though, said they could not send money home to

relatives living in other countries. Other families could not afford

Christmas trees.

But even as melancholy picketers lamented what they said were

further cuts in their strike pay, the holidays did bring an increased

awareness of things to be thankful for, some said.

A group of about 20 picketers at the Glenoaks Albertsons quickly

pointed to Irene Fulgoni, a retired 33-year employee of Albertsons

and its predecessor, Lucky.

Each day since Oct. 11, Fulgoni has filled the back of her minivan

with homemade cookies, muffins and warm drinks and driven from her

home in Eagle Rock to her former market to serve striking colleagues

she calls her friends.

“It’s important to show them that somebody cares,” she said.


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