Raley's, union upbeat so far in early stages of strike
The grocery shelves were stocked, the coffee stand was open and shoppers were lined up at the deli counter for sandwiches.
On the picket line outside, morale was high and strikers said they were settling in for the long haul. They pumped their fists every time a potential customer left without going inside.
Monday was Day Two of the strike against Raley's, and across Northern California both sides were scrambling to put the best face on things. It wasn't immediately clear if either labor or management had gained the upper hand.
Raley's said it was pleased with overall operations and customer support. What's more, spokesman John Segale said, "nearly half" of union employees showed up for work Monday.
The United Food and Commercial Workers denied that many workers crossed the picket line, but the union wouldn't provide specifics. UFCW officials said the picketing workers succeeded in driving shoppers away.
"Raley's customers are shopping elsewhere while the workers are on strike," said UFCW Local 8 President Jacques Loveall in a statement emailed to The Bee.
Raley's seemed to be pulling out all stops to lure customers. The store on East Bidwell Street in Folsom put out a table with free coffee and cupcakes. Company Chief Executive Michael Teel, in a radio commercial airing Monday, urged shoppers to ignore the strike.
"You can still count on us," he said, reminding listeners of the West Sacramento grocer's decades of experience.
Getting a gauge on the volume of customer activity was difficult. Segale said it was clear that some consumers "changed their shopping habits" but others were "coming out, supporting the company."
On Monday, the East Bidwell store was largely empty at mid-day, but the Raley's on Folsom Boulevard in Sacramento had more customers.
One customer, Dolly Rominger, said she came to the Folsom Boulevard store only because her mobility is limited and she didn't want to drive any farther. She expressed sympathy for the picketing workers.
"I feel bad for them," said Rominger, who lives about three miles away. "I don't like to see anybody have to stand on a picket line."
Strikers said they walked out largely to protect their health plans. Raley's wants to switch them to a different plan and eliminate health coverage for retired workers who are eligible for Medicare.
Not all shoppers were convinced the strike was warranted. Vanessa Herburger, 26, her cart full of fresh fruit and vegetables, expressed mixed sentiments. Herburger, a state worker, said she has endured her share of cuts and furloughs in recent years.
"They are standing up for what they believe, and that's good," Herburger said. "But I'm just happy to have a job." Maybe the Raley's employees should be, too, she suggested, during tough economic times.
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