Claiming unfair cuts in retirement and medical benefits, employees, retirees and family of employees at Gilroy’s Nob Hill Foods are picketing the store, after 15 months of union negotiations with store management.
On Sunday afternoon, about 40 employees of all ages held signs outside the Gilroy store asking shoppers to take their business elsewhere. About 30 people were outside the Morgan Hill store picketing Sunday afternoon.
“They keep dangling the carrot of our retirement further and further out,” said Gilroy resident and Nob Hill employee of 32 years, Ernie Gonzalez.
Gonzalez stood at the Nob Hill parking lot entrance with about eight other employees, waving and cheering at cars passing by on First Street.
“This would have never happened when Michael (Bonfante) owned us. This was a great place to work, we all knew him on a first name basis. But now we are just treated as numbers,” Gonzalez said.
Founded in the early 1970s, Bonfante sold the 27-store Nob Hill chain to Raley’s in 1998 to focus on operating Gilroy Gardens Theme Park (then known as Nob Hill Family Park).
Dana Eclarin, 42 of Gilroy and wife of a Nob Hill employee, Johnny Eclarin, said that for the most part, the Gilroy community has been very supportive of the strike so far.
“People have ran in the store to drop off mail, return movies, those kinds of things, but we’re not seeing a lot of people come out with carts full of groceries,” Eclarin said.
Eclarin thinks that the strike will hit the community in the heart – because the Nob Hill chain began in Gilroy, locals count it as their hometown store.
“If you’re from Gilroy, this is your home store. Shopping here is like coming home, and I understand that. But this is our livelihood at stake,” she said.
Eclarin’s husband, who works at the Capitola Nob Hill, has been with the company for 27 years.
Milton Mathis, United Food and Commercial Worker captain for Nob Hill in Gilroy, said the group plans to strike until the company decides to re-negotiate their cuts, which could happen sometime Monday.
“We work hard, and people shop here because of us. We make customers feel good, but (executives) don’t see that. We have a good reputation in the community because of us,” Mathis said, motioning to the crowd of picketers outside the store.
Mathis said that about four or five employees did not participate in the strike and were working Sunday afternoon.
The local Nob Hill strikes are part of an 8,000-member union strike at all Raley’s and Nob Hill grocery locations across California and Nevada.
John Segale, spokesman for Raley’s said that employee’s retirement and health benefits are not at stake, despite what the union maintains. Segale said the only cuts in the new package include a two-year wage freeze and elimination in Sunday and holiday premium pay.
“We’re under severe competition. We’ve got to lower our operating costs so we can be more effective,” Segale said.
Grocery baggers make between $9.10 to $9.60 an hour, while clerks make $9.95 to $21.13 per hour, Segale said.
This is the first substantial picket of Raley’s in California, and the first-ever picket of Nob Hill, according to Mike Henneberry, UFCW 5 representative.