Tough Choices for Catalina Residents
By DAVID GREENBERG
L.A. supermarket shoppers have plenty of options if they don’t want to cross a picket line. The folks on Catalina Island aren’t so lucky.
There is only one supermarket on the mile-square island a Vons and the United Food and Commercial Workers have been picketing that store, just as they have at 858 Vons, Albertsons, Pavilions and Ralphs locations throughout Southern California.
The island’s only other grocery, Fred & Sally’s Market, closed several years ago and was taken over by Vons for an express service outlet.
To avoid crossing a picket line, Catalina’s 3,300 residents must take a ferry ride up to an hour and 45 minutes each way to the mainland.
“(Picketing) is causing a little tension among the residents over here,” said Wayne Griffin, president and chief executive of the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce. “You feel a little guilty crossing the picket line and yet there are no other alternatives.”
In previous disputes, UFCW officials had told managers at the Catalina Island Vons that its store would be exempt from any job action. Not this time.
“(The chains) are trying to destroy an agreement that we worked with for years now,” said Kathy Finn, director of collective bargaining research and education at Local 770. “Their proposals are so draconian that we were not willing to exempt any store.”
Finn acknowledged that a greater percentage of customers were crossing the lines on Catalina Island than at other stores in Southern California, where parking lots have been sparsely filled.
Vons’ 40 regular employees on Catalina have been replaced by 20 temporary workers, most of whom live on the mainland, according to John Searcy, the store’s manager. He refused further comment on the strike.
Officials at Vons and its Pleasanton, Calif.-based parent company, Safeway Inc., did not return calls.
Union officials said some shoppers are traveling to the mainland to shop, though many of those residents appear to be regulars at Costco, Sam’s Club and other stores that sell bulk goods for a discount.
Some island wholesalers are reselling their stock to residents unwilling to shop at Vons. Catalina Beverage Co. and Robert Arranaga Co., which normally cater to the island’s 30 restaurants and fast food stores, have opened their warehouse doors to the community.
Prior to the strike, Arranaga limited sales to the public to hours between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Wednesday and on Friday. Now the company has extended its hours for walk-in business 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, leaving the early-morning hours open for restaurants.
“The customers are lining up outside my doors waiting for me to open,” said Donna Romo, Arranaga’s general manager. “We have to limit our hours to the public because we have to supply the local restaurants as well, which is our first line of business.”
She said she establishes prices based on a specific mark-up and that hasn’t changed since the strike began. Produce is cheaper than Vons, while dairy products are more expensive. “We’re here to provide a service to the people on the island,” she said. “I’m not price-gouging.”
Catalina Computers & Discount is stocking up on toilet paper, paper towels, tampons, laundry detergent, shampoo and household cleaning supplies, and has added bottled water and cat litter for residents.
“It’s like having two best friends fighting,” said Julie Bovay, the owner of Catalina Computers. “You don’t want to get in the middle of it, but you want make things as least inconvenient as possible.”