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Friday, February 27, 2004

The grocery strike is over.

Let me say it again: the grocery strike is over.

Who won? It looks like management got pretty much everything they wanted. Two-tier pay scale, having the employees pay for some of the cost of health insurance, that's all in the new agreement.

Who lost? Most of all, the employees. Somewhat less than the employees but still major losers: the union. If the strike had kept on going, management was going to pull a PATCO* and fire every union grocery worker, making their "temporary" replacements permanent.

During the almost five month strike, we never darkened the doors of a supermarket that was being actively struck. We went to a Ralphs once, when the union had stopped picketing there, but only once...we were absolutely aghast by the quality (or lack thereof) of the temporary help there, and vowed to never go back for the duration. We discovered ethnic supermarkets like Vallarta and 99 Ranch, we also relied a lot on Jon's which is an Armenian-American grocery chain and which had opened up an awesome market on Sepulveda Boulevard at Sherman Way, and we occasionally would visit Trader Joe's, which rules but doesn't really have a market close to us. In a pinch, the Food 4 Less wasn't being struck, but I'd always have pangs of conscience about shopping there because it's run by Kroger, who also runs Ralphs.

Now that the strike looks like it's over (pending approval by the rank-and-file, of course...) I have made one decision I'm sticking with. I will not shop at Vons again. Period. Safeway, which owns Vons, was the major instigator of this whole mess. One of the most heartbreaking scenes from the strike, one which I never will forget, was a pilgrimage of workers trying to get to the CEO of Safeway's house to try to convince him to change his mind and give the demands of the union a second look. The "pilgrims" were stopped a few streets away from their destination. What an asshole. I sent back my VonsClub card, in pieces, right after that.

Another thing I'm going to stick with is patronizing some of these nice little places I've found. 99 Ranch might be a great place to get Chinese and other Asian sauces and ingredients, but it's also got a great bakery that makes both a great Japanese-style (square) loaf of wheat bread and rolled sponge cakes that have a feathery soft texture and a wonderful flavor. Jon's has incredible produce, a pan-European delicatessen/charcuterie, and now has a great Mexican takeout. El Super makes lovely blue corn tortillas and Mexico City-style French rolls (bolilos) made with some whole wheat flour in the mix. And Trader Joe's is Trader Joe's...they have incredible deals on healthy food, some you can't get anywhere else. If only Nijiya or Mitsuwa would open a store in the Valley...that would be heaven.

Maybe I'll patronize Ralphs. Maybe. But not Vons. Folks with Vons or Safeway stores in their neighborhood should also consider the same.

* Remember that story? Air traffic controllers went on strike in 1981. 48 hours later President Reagan outlawed their union, PATCO, and sent military air traffic controllers to take over until new air traffic controllers could be trained. Fine thing for the former president of SAG to do...