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As Pickets Persevere, Shoppers Venture In

The routine isn't getting any easier as the standoff continues. Some customers are lured to the stores by deals.

October 27, 2003|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

When the locked-out workers at Ralphs on Garfield Avenue in South Pasadena showed up to walk the picket lines Sunday morning, something was missing: their signs, which had been broken and trashed overnight.

Union members phoned their "war room" in downtown Los Angeles, which quickly dispatched new signs, and the daily ritual began anew, with about a dozen workers walking the line in the morning heat. As the standoff moved into its third week with no progress reported by either side, this routine clearly was not getting any easier for the union members or for those who came to shop.

More people crossed picket lines later in the morning and at midday Sunday, the busiest shopping day of the week. The store drew 20 to 30 shoppers at a time, with as many as 50 at midday -- more than last Sunday but still two-thirds off the usual pace, according to the workers' union. Company management declined to comment.

Union members said shoppers were lured inside by unusual advertised deals such as free pumpkins with a $5 purchase, 99-cent bags of Halloween candy and 24-packs of bottled water on sale for $1.99.

As with previous days, some customers said they crossed the lines reluctantly. Three Sundays with picket lines was simply too much.

"I just didn't want to hold out anymore," Eric Lopez said. "It was time to start shopping, and the Sunday coupons brought us in."

Ken Goodsell said he was supportive of the striking and locked-out grocery workers at Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons in Southern and Central California, trying to shop elsewhere instead.

But when his sick toddler needed Motrin on Sunday morning, the South Pasadena lawyer came to his local Ralphs for the first time since the labor trouble began Oct. 11.

United Food and Commercial Workers at Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions went on strike over medical benefits, and the next day, Kroger Co.'s Ralphs and Albertsons Inc. locked out the rest of the UFCW members.

"Like other shoppers, I have to respond to family emergencies," Goodsell said. "It's unfortunate that the management is not being flexible and coming to the negotiating table."

"I know, but today time is of the essence," shopper Patricia Moore told the pickets as she dashed through the entrance.

"I'm a working lady -- I don't have time to run from store to store," the schoolteacher explained in an interview inside the store.

Some customers happily crossed the lines, however.

"I would have sympathy if they had a real problem, but they're not making bad money. Better than most people I know," said retiree Jane Jakab.

"Oh man, just leave me alone! I'm trying to go get some food," said one man charging into the store.

As the standoff dragged on, union members said their spirits were still high.

"I'd say we're pretty upbeat," said Natalie Johnson, a bakery manager.

She acknowledged the mixed reaction in an upscale area, where some customers are small-business owners who sympathize with the high medical insurance costs companies face.

Though plenty of passing drivers still honk in support, the pickets tell of how one man in a Mercedes offers them an unfriendly hand gesture every morning at 5:30.

"This is kind of a hard neighborhood," Johnson said.

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