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Local grocery store workers rally for better wages, staffing

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Outside Vons in Grover Beach, rally-goers began to gather in the hot afternoon sun of March 1. Some held picket signs that said "Support grocery workers" and "Fair wages for essential work." Another man wore a United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union T-shirt as he signed attendees in.

Just days before their contract is set to expire, unionized grocery workers gathered to rally at stores across Southern California. They're seeking increased wages, improved safety, better staffing, and stable scheduling after an extremely challenging past two years.

RALLY FOR CHANGE United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 gathered outside the Grover Beach Vons store to demand improved wages, staffing, scheduling, and safety. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • RALLY FOR CHANGE United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 gathered outside the Grover Beach Vons store to demand improved wages, staffing, scheduling, and safety.

Lori Ralls worked at the Grover Beach Vons store for 12 years and has worked in the industry for more than two decades. Since December 2020, she's served as the union representative for Grover Beach's UFCW Local 770.

"We basically are asking for the community's support after having worked through the pandemic," Ralls told New Times. "Many of these people got sick, they were on the front lines. Grocery stores were the only things open. These grocery stores made billions of dollars, and we're asking for a $5 raise over a three-year contract."

New Times asked to interview Vons Store Director Sean Emerson while the rally was happening, but he declined to comment. Ralls said employees were told by store management not to speak to the media.

Grocery workers from nearby stores came to show their support for the Grover Beach employees.

"They expect us to stock faster, get through customers faster," said James Hunter, a supervisor at Vons in Santa Maria. "For them to say, 'Oh, we don't have the hours to staff the stores,' ... They're making bank. It's all greed from the managers and corporate."

Ralls said that she and other union members are asking the community to stand with grocery workers after the sacrifices they made during the pandemic. Before becoming the union representative, Ralls was behind the cash register, on the front lines of the early COVID-19 case wave.

"It was very apocalyptic in the beginning, I'm not going to lie to you," she said. "Standing in that check stand, watching people come through with these massive carts, just stockpiling food, and wondering if there was even going to be anything left at the end of the day for me to bring my parents. It was scary."

The March 1 Vons rally drew about 40 attendees, including Grover Beach Mayor Jeff Lee, Councilmember Dan Rushing, and SLO County Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg. Δ

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, New Times inaccurately stated what store managers told employees to do during the rally. They were told not to speak to the media. New Times regrets this error.

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