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Fighting for Your Salary Rights?

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Over the last week, our local news channels have been covering the grocery workers threat to strike. I’m not going to jump into whether or not I agree with the strikes – or unions at all for that matter – but I do want to talk about appropriate times to strike.

The last time this grocery union went on strike was in October 2003. No, I didn’t look up that fact, I remember it… CLEARLY.

If you type ‘southern california october 2003’ in Google, you won’t see anything about a grocery strike, you’ll see page after page about the horrific Cedar Fire that killed 15 people and destroyed over 2,200 homes.

In the middle of that October night, I got out of bed to see why there was a bright orange glow shining from my window and stared dumbfounded at the flames ripping up the mountainside. A short while later, the fire chief drove up the driveway and told us we had to leave – NOW.

We grabbed what we could, put the dogs in the car, and left.

We drove around for a while, stayed at friend’s homes… until they were evacuated too, and eventually ended up in a Ralph’s parking lot. Now, call me crazy, but the first thought that crossed my mind wasn’t, “Well, these folks are on strike. Maybe I should drive to Trader Joe’s.” Weirdly enough, it was more, “I’m thirsty, the dogs are thirsty, it’s hot, I’m going to get water and ice.”

I loaded the goods into my 4-Runner, gave the dogs a chance to walk around, and decided to drive to yet another friend’s house who hadn’t been evacuated. As I tried to leave the parking lot, the strikers (wearing masks to protect themselves from the huge chunks of ash falling from the orange sky) blocked the driveway to the street. I threw my arms up in frustration and one of the strikers faced me, flipped me the bird, and screamed obscenities as if somehow, I were the most vile human being in the world for shopping at a union grocery store.

That was the day the Southern California grocery store workers lost any hope of support from me then or ever.

Here we are, nearly eight years later, and I will be shopping at Ralphs – and ONLY Ralphs during the strike. If this union didn’t care about the community in its time of need, I simply can’t find the obligation or desire to care about them.

The moral of this story?

If you feel the need to strike for more money, benefits, etc., be cognizant of what is going on in your community – otherwise, you could lose any chance of support.

And trust me… people will remember for a very long time.

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19 Comments

  • Reply Mia |

    I always have thought that Grocery store unions were idiotic. Most of the jobs are menial and unskilled – cashier/clerk, stocker, deli, janitorial, etc. I can’t understand why they believe they deserve more money and benefits than say a convenience store clerk or the pizza hut delivery guy.

    I’ve only experience one grocery strike, at least 30 years ago – I think it was a City Market store in Wyoming – but I will never forget the rude and nasty words that were tossed my way when I crossed their imaginary line. Really, I’d have to read up and study for a least a month to even begin to understand whose ‘side’ of a strike I should be on. Nasty insults sure don’t make me want to care about strikers.

    And your story – cripes, there’s a friggin’ fire! People should come together during times of disaster, help each other out, forget the little things in favor of the more important things like lives and homes with memories inside them.

    You’ve remembered your Strike experience for 8 years, I’ve remembered mine for 30+. Memory is indeed long.

  • Reply Money Beagle |

    Wow, that is unbelievable that they were that brazen. I understand the need for unions and how they helped grow into the nation that became the best in the world, but stories like this are why people now decry them more often than not. I wish there was some balance, or at least that the unions would exhibit more common sense about the time and place to make their points.

  • Reply Andy |

    I couldn’t agree more. This reminds me of my sister in law who is a school teacher complaining about now having to pay 1% ($600 a year)of her salary towards her benefits, whereas previously both her and her husband were given full benefits (health, dental and vision) at no cost to them. I politely reminded her that her brother and I pay that much PER MONTH for those same benefits, without the same raises she is garunteed yearly.

    I also pointed out the fact that complaining like hers is why teachers and their union in her state are getting absolutley no sympathy from the public regarding the current budget issues they are facing.

    She is my SIL and of course I want her to get the best deal possible, but I you can’t expect people who are already struggling with no recent raises and impending higher property taxes to be sympathetic towards you for having to contribute 1% of your yearly salary towards benefits.

  • Reply Denise |

    Couldn’t agree with you more on this point! Ohio just passed Senate Bill 5 and the public union members (mainly teachers) are up in arms about it. But even with the rules of the bill they are paying considerably less towards health benefits and retirement than the public (that pays their salaries via taxes) have been paying for years. Sadly, a lot of GOOD professions like teachers, policemen and firefighters are now being looked down upon by the public because they are being perceived as greedy. For you to be harassed by union member – despite the other events that were going on – is WRONG. And I highly doubt anyone’s opinions get changed as a result of such tactics on the unions’ part.

  • Reply Lizzie |

    My husband works for a city fire department that has opted NOT to join a union. Personally, I am thankful we don’t have to pay dues and put all of our hope in ‘union personnel’ for raises, benefits, etc.
    His brother, on the other hand, works for a city that has joined the union. He pays huge dues we haven’t seen any benefit for and they have him convinced the fire department couldn’t operate without them!
    I agree, striking and timing is definitely important when it comes to getting public support.

  • Reply mom |

    How I remember that day… it was horrific! But in all of that horror I will never forget you girls. Here we were having no electricity, no water and you girls were not leaving until your make-up and hair was done. You brought humor to a scary situation. Thank you. The other thing that also struck me is what you girls grabbed to place in the car… my car. You grabbed clothes for me, which I thought was so sweet. However.. it pointed out very clearly what you girls liked and what you didn’t like of mine. I would have never picked out what you guys did. For me, I grabbed my Bible, my sewing machine, important papers, and pictures. I didn’t even think about clothes! I was just thankful we even had the time to do that… so many others did not. I’m with you sweetheart, my view of grocery clerks who belonged to unions forever changed that day. I could care less what they were demanding in their contracts when so many lost way more than wage changes. It was so sad. Love you, mom

  • Reply Bluezette |

    Although I’ve been following Blogging Away Debt for many years, I guess I don’t really fit in with the group. Best of luck to all of you in the future.

  • Reply Jeff |

    I am torn on the union issue. We have a union at my job that only protects us from management mistreatment. We can under no circumstances go on strike or ask for more money. They are there to keep us from being bullied by management. I am for that. The ones that do demand more money and go on strike are tearing up this country with there take take take mentality. I am against this type of union.

  • Reply your average joe |

    While I agree with Beks that in her case things were not appropriate, I don;t agree with all those that are bashing unions.

    Even if you’ve never been a member of a Union, you benefit everyday from what Unions have done. Even if you’ve never had kids, never called 911, never needed the fire or police department, you benefit from public workers.

    Have any employer paid/sponsored benefits: like, health care/retirement plan? (even if you pay a share)?
    Thank the Union

    Do you have a day or two off every week (such as the weekend)?
    Thank the Union

    8 hr work day, and paid overtime?
    Thank the Union

    Workman’s Comp?
    Thank the Union

    A safe workplace?
    Thank the Union

    Got an employer who needs a reason to fire you?
    Thank the Union

    Unemployment benefits?
    Thank the Union.

    All these things that we take for granted today did not exist before unions demanded them.

  • Reply Rachel |

    @Mia:
    Sounds like a “race to the bottom” argument to me.
    IMHO, I’d like to see the folks who deliver pizzas and work at convenience stores get decent benefits, too.

    Look at the reasoning behind this post – if a policeman is rude once, hey no prob – never call the cops for anything.

    If a doctor is rude, I gotta fix for that too. That weird cough? Nope, don’t wanna go to the doctor, cause a doc was really rude once.

    Any readers been rudely treated at the grocery store? Let’s solve that problem by becoming farmers!

    Oh, that won’t work either if the guy at the Feed and Seed gets a little mouthy. Let’s all live on roots and berries!

    While I’ll certainly agree that rude behavior on the part of strikers doesn’t help anyone, I certainly wouldn’t let the behavior of one group, one time, determine my opinion forever.

  • Reply Melanie |

    This post is exactly the reason I’ve unsubscribed from personal finance blog after personal finance blog. I get that you have the right to post whatever you want – and I support that right – but I find that at some point most PF bloggers turn sanctimonious. I’ve felt that way here a few times in the past, but this is beyond the pale.

    So, yes, the strikers behaved badly in a terrible time, but somehow their desire for living wages and good treatment now causes you to be completely indifferent and callous to other peoples’ hardships? I think this is more and more the problem in this country – we hardly care about our fellow citizens anymore, as long as we have “ours” and that “ours” is equal to or better than “theirs” – see Andy’s comment for an example. Yeah, we’re a real “exceptional country” all right.

  • Reply mom |

    I generally do not read my daughter’s blog. I look at it every now and then, but for the most part, I stay clear. In the last few weeks however, I have looked at it more than usual and have even responded a few times. I’m not sure that this has been a wise move on my part… and for that I am sorry. But… I did need to jump in at least one more time to get everyone back on track as to what Beks was trying to get all of you to think about. Once I’ve had my say, I will jump back off her blog and let you all have at it. Beks was not supporting, defending, or even putting down those who belong to a union and choose to strike. She was merely saying that the timing should always be taken into consideration. When that fire broke out back in 2003, we needed to be a community that pulled together.. not one that became disillusioned with one another. And sad to say, it was not just one person who was unkind, but lots of people were on the picket lines and many were very rude. Were all of them? A resounding no, but a lot were! I realize that these people were simply standing up for something they believed in and something that was very important to them.. but so many others were loosing everything they had. Most people today are struggling more than they ever have. I think what Rebekah was asking in her blog is this, considering the times in which we are living, along with the community that surrounds us, is going on strike the right move for now? Will it ultimately help or hurt?

  • Reply Andy |

    Melanie – I think you misread my statement. I was making a point to my SIL as to why her teachers’ union has been bashed so badly in the press for the last year and public opinon turned against them. The question of what they were or were not recieving being fair wasn’t even part of the coverstaion.

    Don’t accuse me of being callous.

  • Reply Nichole@40daysof |

    I have seen too many situations where the union leadership is not in tune with either their members, or the economic standings of the companies their people work for. I have even seen union demands push companies out of business. While I acknowledge the important historical role of unions, many have become corrupt and seem to be run by people who have no experience in the working world. Therefore, they cannot be good representatives of the hard workers they are supposed to be fighting for. Nor can they have meaningful dialogue with management, because they lack a basic understanding of how business works. To top all of that off, the poor timing of many strikes, like the one Beks mentioned, means that many of us have a poor opinion of unions at this particular time in history.

  • Reply Kaye |

    I have been following this blog for a long time. I enjoy reading different views and perspectives.

    I do believe personal commentary about unions comes very close to opening up the same can of worms as one would in discussing politics and religion.

    Your post doesn’t really seem to serve a purpose (certainly not financial related) other than to express a negative viewpoint about unions. That doesn’t offend me personally, but it’s not related to what I came here to read about. And it can be offensive to many. You are here as a guest blogger (basically) until you pay off your debts and then someone else will take your place. You may want to think about less controversial topics.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong 😉 just perhaps it’s not the right place.

    All the best to you
    ~Kaye

  • Reply minuette |

    @Nichole re: your quote “the poor timing of many strikes, including the one Beks mentioned”

    I have no firsthand knowledge of these events and am relying purely on info from google. This is not meant to negate the horrors of the fire or those who died, nor does it excuse the community not pulling together in Bek’s situation.

    According to the online info, the strike began on Oct 11th and the human caused fire began on the 25th. To say the strike was ‘poor timing’ has no merit. There is no way that group could have anticipated the fire that would begin 14 days later.

  • Reply Beks |

    Minuette – No, they didn’t know the fires would start, but they should have perhaps taken leave from striking until the situation stabilized is what I was trying to say.

    Kaye – The union is fighting for pay. That has a lot to do with debt/finances. I’m trying to point out that there are appropriate times to do this, and thanks to the union’s bad decisions in the past, support has been lost.

  • Reply Jen |

    Bluezette & Kaye – I’m with you.

    While the singular event that you describe is certainly horrifying, to use that as your basis for taking (what appears to be) an anti-union stance is short-sighted.

    Don’t forget to thank the union for your days off this weekend…

So, what do you think ?