Since the grocery strike, which affected some 800 Southern California stores, ended just over a week ago it is back to business as usual at Ralphs on Sunset, for both the customers and the workers. Early yesterday morning Jay Lopez could be found taking a detailed inventory of the produce department. As a produce clerk, it is his job to see that there is enough broccoli and ripe bananas on hand for the expected increase in customers over the weekend. He said he welcomes the familiar routine after being locked out for five months. ‘The strike was very hard on many of the workers here,’ said Lopez, who has worked at Ralphs for 14 years, four of them in the Palisades Sunset store. ‘Fortunately, I was able to live on some savings I had put aside to buy a house, as well as the money I was paid for standing in the picket line.’ Lopez, a father of three, said he walked the picket line for the whole five months and has had to put off buying a house ‘for now.’ While he had no comment on the settlement that was finally reached, which calls for a two-tier system which clearly favors veteran workers like him over new hires, his main concern all along was to ‘keep our current health benefits,’ which he basically has. Under the new three-year contract, veteran employees won’t have to pay for their medical coverage in the first two years, but they will now have some co-payments. Also glad to be back at work is Luis Zelaya, who has worked as a produce clerk at the Ralphs store in the Palisades since 1999. As he stocked the shelves on Wednesday morning he said that his family survived the strike by living on credit cards and the weekly stipend ($240 a week for the highest-paid workers) he received while on the picket line. ‘Now I have to work hard to pay all that off,’ said the father of three. Asked what he thought of the new contract, in which new workers will receive substantially less in pay and benefits, he said that although he saw it as a compromise, ‘everyone got something.’ Zelaya and Lopez are among the highest-paid clerks at Ralphs, both earning $17.90 an hour. The first grocery strike in California in 25 years, which started October 11, affected some 70,000 workers from San Diego to Santa Barbara. After union members of the United Food and Commercial Workers at Vons and Pavilions stores went on strike, employees of Albertsons and Ralphs were locked out in a show of union solidarity, as they share the same contract. During the strike Ralphs reduced store hours and hired thousands of replacement workers to man its stores. Locally, some 80 workers were affected by the lockout at Ralphs. Approximately 30 of them found work at Gelson’s, ‘helping out during the Thanksgiving and Christmas rush,’ said store manager Ray Stockton. ‘We’ve now hired five of those Ralph workers on a permanent basis.’
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