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LABOR UNREST

Two Strikes Against Them

She works at Ralphs. He works at MTA. They're digging in.

October 18, 2003|Nora Zamichow | Times Staff Writer

What are the odds?

Leticia Garcia, a grocery store cashier, and her husband Javier, an MTA mechanic, are both on strike.

"How can this happen to both of us?" wondered Leticia Garcia, a Ralphs supermarket cashier for 17 years.

She and her husband walk their respective picket lines, toting their respective protest signs. They're prepared to eat into their savings. And they've set rules: They will use cash for all purchases and save their one credit card for emergencies.

"When you don't have a job, you think more about how you spend your money," said Javier Garcia, 45, who has worked at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for almost 12 years.

The Garcias have long been ready for the unexpected. Leticia Garcia, 56, a coupon devotee, waits until various household items are on sale, then snaps them up. As a result, the couple's closets are packed.

"We have enough toilet paper for two years," said Javier Garcia.

The Garcias know plenty of people hit harder by the strikes. After all, Leticia's three daughters are grown. The couple's three dogs are small -- Shih Tzus named Snowy, Jumper and Lakai. Their biggest bill is payment on their three-bedroom Eagle Rock house.

Relatives had always chided the couple for being so frugal. Loosen up and spend a little, they'd say. Now the Garcias are glad they never listened.

Leticia's mother and two daughters told the couple: "If you need anything, let us know." Even a neighbor offered a loan. And one loyal customer promised Leticia Garcia a supervisory job in a dining room of a Holiday Inn. But the Garcias believe they can weather this odds-defying double whammy.

"It's not that we're very worried," said Javier Garcia. "We've been through tougher times -- I think we'll eat tomorrow."

Javier Garcia, a native of Peru, met Leticia 16 years ago at a McDonald's in Glendale, where they both worked. They struck up a conversation when Leticia, a Filipina, dropped by to pick up a paycheck. She worked the night shift; he worked days. Back then, for a few months she worked at Ralphs from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and at the fast-food restaurant from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Now, their greater concern, Javier Garcia says, is how long can they last? About 7,000 MTA employees are on strike, while 70,000 supermarket workers are also off the job. Whose strike will end first?

Leticia Garcia figures she will take another job in three months if no resolution has been reached by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which went on strike last week.

It would not be easy for her to leave the store, where she has worked so long that most regular shoppers know her name. Some give her flowers and Christmas presents. One woman, who returned from a trip to England, brought a bracelet for Leticia Garcia.

But not all her work memories are pleasant. One night five years ago, a drunk man came through her checkout line and tried to buy alcohol. Realizing the customer was intoxicated, Leticia Garcia refused. When she emerged from the store at the end of her shift at 2 a.m., the man pulled a gun and shot her; the bullet grazed her leg, she said.

Since then, Leticia Garcia has not worked past 11 p.m. The incident, however, did not quell her enthusiasm. She talks with pride about having won the coveted title Cashier of the Year four times. Today, the Garcias find themselves with more time together than ever before. Their hours on the picket lines are flexible. Even so, they are up by 6:30 a.m.

"We are people who are used to working all day long," said Javier Garcia, who also runs a business coordinating real estate loans.

They will use this time, they said, to take care of the home and car projects that they always meant to do. They've begun weeding their sloping backyard, planning to plant a ground cover to hold the soil in place when the rains begin. Javier Garcia intends to get the tires rotated and change the oil on two cars. Then he'll help a friend with some work at his house. Leticia Garcia plans to reupholster the seats in her husband's old white truck.

"We cannot avoid the strike, so let's enjoy it," said Javier Garcia.

When Javier Garcia momentarily stepped beyond earshot, Leticia Garcia shyly confessed: "I like that we now have time with each other."

--- UNPUBLISHED NOTE ---

On February 12, 2004 the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which had stated repeatedly that 70,000 workers were involved in the supermarket labor dispute in Central and Southern California, said that the number of people on strike or locked out was actually 59,000. A union spokeswoman, Barbara Maynard, said that 70,000 UFCW members were, in fact, covered by the labor contract with supermarkets that expired last year. But 11,000 of them worked for Stater Bros. Holdings Inc., Arden Group Inc.'s Gelson's and other regional grocery companies and were still on the job. (See: "UFCW Revises Number of Workers in Labor Dispute," Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2004, Business C-11)

--- END NOTE ---

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