Workers’ Correspondence

LOS ANGELES – Millions of Southern Californians have let the giant Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons grocery chains know that, despite the victory of Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, there has been no shift to the right in the thinking of working people. In the weeks since the strike by 70,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union began, on Oct. 11, sprawling supermarket parking lots have remained nearly empty as consumers and workers have respected union picket lines.

The UFCW strike, along with that of 2,000 transit mechanics of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, a sick-out by many L.A. County deputy sheriffs, impending job actions by other county workers, and potential mass layoffs of state workers, have the general populace talking about health care, unions, and standards of living.

I wear a union T-shirt whenever I shop. People stare – not in shock or surprise, but to read it to see what union it is.

At my worksite our union, SEIU/California State Employees Association, encourages us to wear our shirts each Wednesday. There is a large L.A. County worksite in the same building as our state office. Last Wednesday, a county worker accosted me as I was about to enter our office, decked out in my T-shirt. “Hi! I see you around in your shirt pretty often,” she said. “I am in SEIU Local 660, what’s yours?”

And then, almost like a bolt out of the blue she said, “Isn’t it really something, all of these people on strike? I wish all of California was on strike. We have a standard of living [to defend].” She let me know her unit may have to take job action in the coming weeks.

The other day a multiracial group of women in our dining area were talking. I overheard one mentioning how one of the grocery strikers in her neighborhood reminded her of the actress in Norma Rae. Another mentioned how someone in her church owned a store and had closed it on Sundays because he put “people before profits.”

Thursday I had a day off and was able to attend a solidarity rally called by the L.A. County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO attended by some 2,000 strikers and many rank and filers and officials from scores of unions. There were many, many different colored T-shirts, as strikers and their supporters surrounded the Vons/Pavilion store in Hollywood – just one of the more than 730 stores affected by the strike and lockouts.

Thunderous cheers welcomed Jim Santangelo, western regional vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, when he announced that the Teamsters would recognize UFCW picket lines at the distribution centers of the giant chains.

Santangelo said, “Together we will kick their butts.”

Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the 700,000-member L.A County Federation of Labor, pledged full support in order that the strikers last “one more day” than the companies. Members of the Los Angeles City Council and many state legislators pledged to join and support the picket lines in their districts. The L.A. City Council has passed a resolution “strongly endorsing the efforts of the United Food and Commercial Workers to reach a just and decent contract.”

Saturday I went by three picket lines to offer support. I parked on the street though the lots were all but empty. Honking horns of supporting passersby constantly punctuated my conversations with the strikers.

At the Vons supermarket in Eagle Rock pickets said a rally would soon be held and members of the teachers union would be supporting it. Pickets at the Albertsons store in Highland Park were talking about bringing their families to the line and joked about how supervisors inside tried to convince them this wasn’t legal. At the Vons store in Lincoln Heights, picketers had family members at their line and, looking at my T-shirt, they empathized with the plight of state workers with a new governor coming with promises of big cuts.

The weekend saw a blast of strike activity throughout the area. Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich walking a picket line in the Venice neighborhood. A Sunday morning caravan organized by Friends of Labor passing by 10 stores to support picketers in Harbor City, Carson and Torrance. Rev. Jesse Jackson joining picket line at a Vons market in Santa Monica.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney will be in town to generate more support as well.

– Rosalio Muñoz