Ordinance protecting grocery store employees
moves to full Board
Supervisor Fiona Ma sponsored the Grocery Worker Retention Ordinance
protecting grocery store workers when ownership changes hands.
Supervisor Bevan Dufty, stalwart supporter of workers over predatory
corporate interests, in background.
By Aldrich M. Tan
April 18, 2006
Rebekah Alessi, 50, appealed to city officials at the City Operations
and Neighborhood Services Committee to save her husband's job.
Alessi is a stay-at-home mother raising her daughter Shoshanah,
3 in North Beach. Her husband Gary, 50, works at the Cala Foods
on California Street, one of eight local stores that is poised
to close within the next few years. If Gary is laid off from his
job, his family would have to move would have to move out of the
city to find work, Alessi said.
At Monday's committee meeting Alessi spoke on behalf of her working
husband at Monday's committee meeting in support of an ordinance
that would protect the jobs of over 4,200 local grocery employees
as their respective companies change ownership.
"My daughter and I are here to provide a picture of what
this ordinance is all about," Alessi said. "It's about
being able to let me raise my daughter in San Francisco."
Sponsored by Supervisor Fiona Ma, the Grocery Worker Retention
Ordinance will require grocery employers to retain their employees
for 90 days upon change in control of the grocery store.
"Grocery store workers are a vital part of the community,"
Ma said. "They have been trained on how to treat food properly
and they take their jobs seriously. These workers must be treated
fairly and with respect."
The 90 day grace period gives current grocery store employees
a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and skills of safe food
handling to their new employers, said Michael Sharpe, president
of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local No. 648.
"This is responsible legislation," Sharpe said. "It
protects a group of individuals whose hard labor is finally being
The ordinance comes amidst news regarding management changes
in some of the biggest grocery store chains in the nation, Sharpe
said. Portions of supermarket chain Albertsons Inc. are being
sold to Supervalu Inc., CVS Corp., Cerebus Capital Management
and Kimco Realty Corp. Cala Foods is up for sale and has already
closed two branches in San Francisco.
"The retail food industry is in a serious crisis situation
due to store closures and acquisitions," Sharpe said. "New
acquisitions are causing anxiety for those who are working in
Albertsons Inc. has six stores and 400 employees in San Francisco,
Ma said. Supermarket chain Cala Foods owns ten local stores, represents
1/3 of the large grocery stores in the city and employs over 300
Lydia Rodriguez said she is currently employed at an Albertsons
grocery store in the city. Rodriguez said in she experienced many
corporate mergers and acquisitions in which her own employment
status is uncertain during her 20 years of retail experience.
"This legislation gives me piece of mind and gives me the
opportunity to prove to my employers that I am capable to do my
job," Rodriguez said.
The California Grocers Association is against the ordinance,
local governmental relations manager Timothy James said. James
said the ordinance will discourage grocery stores from opening
or locating in San Francisco, especially ethnic grocery stores
that want to expand their locations.
"Forcing ethnic and specialty stores to retain employees
without unique understanding and knowledge of their operations
will make these companies choose to buy or lease a grocery store
outside the City limits," association president Peter Larkin
said in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.
The association is also concerned about how the ordinance affects
grocery stores only, James said. A growing number of general merchandisers
are also handling food items.
"We call for a legislative analysis of the ordinance because
we believe that the board will be unable to fully deliberate on
the issue without the necessary information," James said.
Tim Paulson, executive director for the San Francisco Labor Council,
said there is always going to be a demand for grocery companies
in the city.
"Eating is a pretty tough habit to break when it comes to
food," Paulson aid.
The Committee motioned to pass the ordinance and move it to a
hearing by the Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks.
"One thing I hear consistently from my constituents is that
they are comfortable at a grocery store when they know someone
who has been working for the store for 15 years is still there,"
Supervisor Bevan Dufty said. "I will decide for the rights
of workers every day."
Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, Sophie
Maxwell, Ross Mirkarimi and Geraldo Sandoval are also listed as
co-sponsors of the ordinance. The latest supervisor to endorse
the ordinance is Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who was watching the
committee meeting from his office. Elsbernd walked into the committee
meeting to announce his co-sponsorship.
"My first job was a grocery bagger at Tower Market,"
Terry McHugh, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 278,
and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd.
Elsbernd signed on as co-sponsor of the legislation mid-way through
Stay-at-home mom Alessi said the committee's decision brought
tears to her eyes.
"I'm so proud to be a San Franciscan tonight," Alessi