Illustrated by Leigh Douglas

A ten-day long labor strike by workers at Raley’s grocery stores in Santa Cruz County ended on Nov. 14. Successful negotiations between Raley’s management and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) preserved previous concessions from a prior union contract made in 2008, as well as cost-cutting measures instituted by the company.

The UFCW organized the strike after 15 months of bargaining with Raley’s over proposed changes to employee healthcare and medical benefits for retirees.

Both management and the UFCW expressed satisfaction with the settlement reached this month. But according to representatives from both parties, the gains made were possibly a product of the pre-strike discussions and the approaching holidays, leaving untouched the fundamental conflict of interests between Raley’s’ management and the UFCW.

According to Raley’s management, the company was already suffering prior to the strike because market conditions have changed since the last negotiated contract in 2008.

“Since then, more than 240 non-union retail outlets were either built or expanded specifically to sell groceries in Raley’s territory,” said John Segale, the public relations spokesperson for Raley’s. “Being union, we’re paying $25 an hour, where Walmart is paying $9 an hour.”

Raley’s management said competition with non-union outlets like Costco and Walmart was forcing it to seek cost savings. Raley’s management also stated they were losing millions of dollars a year before competition increased.

Mike Henneberry, representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union 5 (UFCW Local 5), which represents San Jose, Santa Cruz and other nearby cities, held a different view.

“They said they were losing millions of dollars, but they never verified that,” Henneberry said. “I attended a limited number of bargaining sessions and what I got from them is they are returning profitability. They’re not going out of business.”

The negotiations held prior to the Raley’s strike went on for over a year. Neither side was willing to capitulate to the other’s demands, resulting in the strike.

“We absolutely had to have cost savings,” Segale said, “and we were not going to cave until we were able to get those.”

Mike Henneberry said the situation ended quickly because Raley’s recognized they had missed a chance to negotiate successfully prior to the strike.

“I think they realized after a while they had shot themselves in the foot,” he said, “and they realized they better fold their tents and get to a settlement.”

Segale had a different opinion of why the strike ended after only ten days.

“Thanksgiving was coming up, Christmas was right behind it, and [the strikers] were realizing they were about to lose a significant amount of their income,” Segale said. “It was incumbent for both parties to come together and see if we could reach an agreement.”

The strike —the first in Raley’s 80-year history — concluded on terms acceptable to both sides. The exact terms of the agreement will not be released until after employees have been informed of the details, but both Raley’s and UFCW representatives have expressed satisfaction with it.

“Customers are pleased to have their store and be able to shop without being abused or chastised by strikers,” Segale said.

Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW 8 said in the Sacramento Bee that the preservation of the employee healthcare plan “is an extraordinary accomplishment for our members and our retirees.”

In a statement issued after closing negotiations, Loveall expressed hope that management and labor would be able to work together, and said, “Now is the time for all of us to come together and get back to work serving the customers who supported our cause.”