Unionized Nob Hill Foods workers held their sixth day of picketing Friday, after over a year's worth of negotiations over healthcare and wages failed with the management of Nob Hill Foods and its parent company Raley's.
However, United Food and Commercial Workers, which organizes labor for Safeway and Raley's, made an agreement Thursday with Safeway management to protect benefits for its workers.
Picketers said the agreement was proof that Raley's plan for a two-year freeze on pay increases and elimination of retiree health benefits for those older than 65 and eligible for Medicare are unjust.
"Our company is saying they have the best offer in the industry, which is a misnomer based on what the Safeway employees are going to have," said Steven Bennet, 55, picket line organizer for the Capitola Nob Hill Foods. Bennet has worked at Nob Hill Foods for 35 years.
In an open letter to its customers, Raley's president and CEO Mike Teel said that the cuts to union benefits were necessary to compete with other non-union grocery stores.
“We are not seeking any reductions to the industry-leading hourly wages we pay our employees, but we are freezing all increases for two years,” wrote Teel.
“And, while we continue to provide medical coverage to retirees up to the age of 65 years old, we can no longer afford to provide health and welfare coverage to retirees once they qualify for Medicare.”
Negotiations remain dead in the water, according to Bennet.
“The company is refusing to bargain with us,” he said.
“This is the final straw for me. I can no longer continually concede to Raley's demands. In my opinion this is corporate greed. They plead poverty, but they just put $2 million into a remodel in Scotts Valley.”
Bennet said he only wants what was promised him.
“We are not asking for more. We are asking to hang on to what we have given up,” he said. “I gave up wages in the past so that I could have medical in the future. Now they want to take my future away.”