UPDATE: Nob Hill picketers win new agreement

Ernie Gonzalez, a head cashier with Nob Hill Foods, sits outside the business Monday while on strike with 90 percent of the Gilroy employees over benefits. Gonzalez has been with the company for 32 years and hopes to retire in one year.


The strike against Raley’s and Nob Hill stores ended Tuesday when a tentative agreement was reached between Raley’s management and union members.

All picket lines were ordered to be immediately withdrawn Tuesday morning, according to spokesman Mike Henneberry with United Food and Commercial Worker.

Details of the agreement have not been released because union members will vote on the agreement before its contents are made public. Both parties have said they are “very happy” with it, however.

Henneberry did say that Raley’s/Nob Hill agreed to remain a part of the union’s health and benefits plan – the same plan that was approved by Safeway last week.

Gilroy’s Nob Hill is back to business as usual, according to Raley’s spokesman John Segale.

Segale described the agreement as a “middle ground” and a “very fair contract for both parties.”

“We are very pleased with the agreement, it provides us with the cost savings we needed so we can compete and be more effective,” he said.

Segale said that business went up immediately after the picket line came down on Tuesday.

“People were really torn about this strike,” he said. “They were torn because they know what Raley’s and Nob Hill does in their local community, as well as knowing their clerks and checkout people.”

The union has not set a date for its members to vote on the contract, but the union is recommending members vote in favor of it.

The strike settlement guaranteed that when workers return to their jobs there will be no reprisal for exercising their rights. They will maintain their positions, seniority and health care eligibility, according to a press release from UFCW.

“The strike is behind us and the healing process began immediately after it ended. Now everyone is working together for the common objective for the company,” Segale said.

After 15 months of unsuccessful negotiations with the company, employees from the 90-store California chain of Raley’s, Bel Air and Nob Hill walked off their jobs Sunday, Nov. 4., claiming the company was using unfair tactics to cut their retirement and health benefits.

For nine full days, 90 percent of Gilroy’s Nob Hill staff took shifts lining the parking lot and entrance to Nob Hill in Gilroy.

To offset the strike, the Gilroy store hired 33 temporary workers and enticed shoppers who may have been hesitant to cross the picket line with doorbuster sales, according to Gilroy’s Head Cashier Ernie Gonzalez.

The strike marked the first major union discord with Raley’s, Henneberry said.

Previous story from last week:

Nob Hill executives have re-entered negotiations with union representatives a week after grocery store employees walked off their jobs in protest, but that development hasn’t stopped a pack of zealous picketers from lining Nob Hill’s storefront on First Street.

The company-initiated negotiations began Sunday and continued throughout Monday, giving protesters hope that a deal will soon be reached.

“We’re hoping for good news soon. We’re all eager to get back to work,” said 53-year-old Ernie Gonzalez, a Nob Hill employee of 32 years. “But we’ll be out here until they do. We are still going strong.”

Gonzalez stood with about eight other protesters Monday morning near the entrance of the store’s parking lot. Roughly 20 more picketers were staggered around the store’s entrance.

After 15 months of unsuccessful negotiations with the company, employees from the 90-store California chain of Raley’s, Bel Air and Nob Hill walked off their jobs Sunday, Nov. 4.

Union employees claim that the company is using unfair tactics to reduce their healthcare and retirement benefits, while the company maintains that the only change to the new benefits package is a two-year wage freeze and the elimination of premium pay for Sundays and holidays.

“We’re under severe competition. We’ve got to lower our operating costs so we can be more effective,” said John Segale, Nob Hill/Raley’s spokesman.

Safeway, which had also been in negotiations for several months, reached an agreement with the union Nov. 8., leaving Raley’s as the isolated grocer in California in the midst of a union dispute.

Mike Henneberry, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Worker Local 5, said that Safeway’s deal could have a direct impact on Raley’s by pushing them to come to a more union-friendly agreement.

“Safeway’s deal was of a high enough merit that we recommend it, as far as their commitment to benefits and wages,”  Henneberry said.

But Segale insisted that Safeway’s deal has had no impact on Raley’s/Nob Hill.

On Monday, the store was generously staffed with employees and a few dozen customers. Employees sliced meat for customers at the deli, while others restocked fresh produce. A small line formed at each of three open registers.

The functioning status of the store at 777 First St. was a stark comparison to the week prior, when Nob Hill’s Gilroy branch shut down and turned off the lights in the bakery, deli and coffee shop, giving an almost eerie atmosphere to the sparse group of customers who crossed the picket line.

“More than half of our employees have returned to work since the beginning of the strike,” Segale said.

But that’s not necessarily true for the Gilroy location, where picketers say that 90 percent of the store’s employees have not crossed the picket line – the same 90 percent who began picketing a week ago.

Gonzalez said that Gilroy’s Nob Hill hired 33 temporary employees in the past week to replenish staffing levels in the store, and to give customers the feeling that not all employees are on strike.

To entice customers back who may have been hesitant to cross the picket line, the store has offered new promotions every three days. Any shopper who spent $20 in the store during the past week was rewarded with four free items such as orange juice, an avocado, a dozen eggs or bananas.

The current three-day sale offers shoppers free flour and a case of water with any $20 purchase.

Segale said the promotions have been “very successful.”

“The sale efforts have been phenomenal,” he said, although he declined to give numbers.

Gonzalez said that he’s seen a lot of people go in for the $20 promotion – but that they aren’t the usual Nob Hill shoppers.

“They get their free dozen eggs, or their free case of water but they won’t come back. They are opportunists just taking advantage of the sale, not regular customers,” he said.

Gonzalez, who is the head cashier at Nob Hill, said he sees his “real” customers at Safeway when he goes to pick up water for the strikers every morning.

“I give them hugs and I thank them for their support,” he said. “I tell them that I hope all of this is over

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