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THE SUPERMARKET STRIKE

Temps Seize Their Chance

Replacement workers say they feel bad about crossing picket lines but do so because they need the paychecks.

October 21, 2003|Elizabeth Douglass and Debora Vrana | Times Staff Writers

Annie Olson, 19, said she jumped at the chance for a temporary cashier's job at an Albertsons store, even though it meant passing locked-out workers at the entrance.

"I'm a single mom and I've been out of work for a year," said Olson, whose white plastic Albertsons nametag was printed with "Annie," but the I and E were drawn with a black ink pen. "I feel bad, but they needed workers and I needed the job."

The first few days crossing the picket line at the Albertsons in San Marcos were unpleasant, but since then it's been fine, Olson said. "We say good morning, and they say good morning. They ask us to quit. I say I can't."

After a few minutes, the store's manager put an end to the discussion. Interviewing replacement workers was a tough task elsewhere too, as managers hovered close to checkers or shooed away reporters at the first glimpse of a notebook.

Still, at a Vons store nearby, Leonardo Kincaide took a moment to chat while he wiped down shelving for bagged packages of lettuce. It was his first day on the job. He was looking for work and had an interview lined up at Fry's Electronics when he landed the job at Vons for $8 an hour as a "courtesy clerk," industry parlance for a bagger.

"I was just looking for a job. You know, you've got to pay bills and rent," said Kincaide, a 26-year-old former Marine. "It would be cool to stay [at this job] because it's right near my house."

Inside a Los Angeles-area Ralphs store, a woman from El Salvador said she really liked her new job bagging groceries. Business is slow and there's not that much to do, said the 39-year-old mother of three, who asked not to be identified. For the most part, she's been organizing the greeting cards, making sure the envelopes and cards match up.

She's been promised $8 an hour and guaranteed 48 work hours this week -- money she says will ease the cost of raising her three children and help pay the $1,400-a-month mortgage on the Hollywood duplex she owns with her husband.

To her, it's all too good to be true. "Everybody is happy in here," she says, and the picketing workers don't hassle her. "They're nice to me. I don't know why."

Royal Harrell, 26, has a full-time job as a manager for United Parcel Service. But he used to work at Vons and offered to help out his old boss at the Carlsbad store during the strike.

"I still know people who work here, and I told them, 'No disrespect, but you know, the business has to go down,' " said Harrell, who is married and has two small children. "I'm just out here making a living, just like they are."

He paused, thinking aloud about how expensive diapers are. Perhaps the extra paycheck from Vons "will be their Christmas."

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