Thousands of grocery workers at 43 El Super locations in Southern California have been demanding better work conditions for years, including paid sick leave, an end to union busting, and a lift on a 32 hour work week limit.
Recently, they were able to claim a major victory.
Ernesto Arce has more from Los Angeles:
[Ernesto Arce]: The National Labor Relations Board ordered Paramount-based El Super to pay 549 current and former employees a total of $363,000 in unpaid wages as part of an agreement to settle unfair labor practice allegations
[CHANTING]: “What do we want? A contract! And when do we want it? Now!”
[Ernesto Arce]: About 600 workers at six El Super stores have been without a contract since September, 2013.
They’re represented by UFCW, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which claims the grocery chain stepped up its union busting efforts since then by threatening and firing activist workers like Martin Hernandez.
[Martin Hernandez]: “We're protesting for our rights as workers because El Super, our employee, doesn't want to give us 40 hours a week of work, five days of work with two days off, and the paid sick leave that we need because we handle food products and if we show up to work sick, we can contaminate the food as well as our coworkers and customers.”
[Ernesto Arce]: The NLRB ordered the payouts as a result of charges that El Super workers’ vacation rights were violated by the company.
Labor and community groups have since come to the defense of the workers. They joined a rally that coincided with a shareholders meeting in Mexico City of Grupo Comercial Chedraui, owners of the El Super.
Community activist Cesar Castrejon said the message to company officials is clear.
[Cesar Castrejon]: “Some of the things that we want included in this contract is, well, respect. A lot of workers are getting treated very poorly. We also want them to get access to paid sick leave as well as decent wages. Right now, El Super worker full time is actually 32 hours and that is not enough to raise a family.”
[Ernesto Arce]: In December 2014, the union and its community partners decided to launch a boycott of the chain after company officials again refused to come to terms on a new contract.
Representatives for El Super refused to comment on the labor dispute. In a previous press release, they said El Super is committed to offering its community, both employees and customers, an excellent shopping experience and work environment.
One UFCW organizer confronted managers during a recent rally.
[UFCW Organizer]: “Give em respect. Give em their raise. Give em their paid medical. Because without your workers you will not have a store. And then they’ll turn on you anyway they’re gonna go on strike and you’re gonna lose money anyway when it’s in your best interest to sit down and negotiate with these people and give them a fair contract.”
[Ernesto Arce]: Under the terms of the settlement agreement, El Super agreed to restore the company’s vacation policy. They also eliminated unilateral changes that required employees to work at El Super a year before they were eligible for annual leave benefits.
Workers pledged to keep the pressure on El Super until they achieve a fair contract.