WEST SACRAMENTO- For the first time in it's 77 year history, Raley's employees are walking the picket lines. After contract talks broke down, thousands of employees of Raley's supermarkets went on strike early Sunday morning.
In West Sacramento, an estimated 60 employee walked off the job and onto the picket line. At stores all over the Sacramento region, picketers encouraged people to shop somewhere else.
"I completely understand that they need to take care of their families. But I need to do my grocery shopping and I do it at Raley's," said shopper Allison Anderson.
It was a tough decision, but employees say they had to hit the picket lines. Layna Falcon has worked at Raleys for 32 years as a checker.
"I just want to be ok when I retire. Because this is all I have," said Falcon.
Both sides are at odds over a proposed 2 year wage freeze, eliminating premium pay for Sunday, and health care benefits.
Picket Captain Lori Thurn was a grocery checker for 23 years. For the last 8 years she has been the natural foods manager.
She says the contract demands proposed are unrealistic.
"What they're doing now is just stripping to the bone and it's not a fair. It's not a fair way to treat hard-working people," said Thurn.
Raley's spokesman John Segale says store shelves are stocked, and business is continuing despite the strike
"It pains us. It's really tough for us," said Segale.
But Raley's claims they have no choice but to stand their ground, to reduce their operating costs, and be more competitive against non-union stores like Target, Walmarts, and Fresh and Easy.
"The competitive environment has changed immensely," said Segale. "We're coming under fierce fierce financial attack. You've got to have cost savings so we can compete in today's environment and be able to remain open and stay in business."
While union members walk the picket lines, Raleys said they haven't received a counter-offer to their last offer. They said they had no choice but to implement the wage package Sunday.
"We submitted our last and final offer4 weeks ago just for the wage package. And unfortunately, they never responded to it," said Segale who claimed that the union leaders never let the members vote on the offer.
Raley's says their current proposal also offers things that SaveMart does not:
-1 week paid vacation
-4 paid holidays
Meanwhile, union members received a letter last week from Raley's senior vice president of operations suggesting members resign from the union.
Picketing employees say that uncalled for.
Thurn said, "It's part of a campaign of intimidation that we've all experienced."
"Many of those employees told us they did not want to go on strike," said Segale. "So we're tried to provide them with that info as well which is legal and appropriate."
Raley's spokesman says the strike is a major disruption for business, but they have a contingency plan to keep the stores open and he says so far it's working.
The Raley's supermarket chain has 13 thousand employees at 128 stores in CA and Nevada. 7500 of the employees are part of a union. Members plan to picket around the clock for as long as it will take.
By Suzanne Phan, email@example.com