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    Smart & Final workers fear possible job losses in warehouse pivot
    • October 17, 2023

    Teamsters members at Chedraui USA-owned Smart & Final distribution centers in Commerce and Riverside fear they may soon lose their jobs, and they’re alerting customers of their concerns.

    The two facilities will be closing next year as the company shifts operations to a bigger 2.4 million-square-foot distribution center in Rancho Cucamonga that’s set to open in 2024. The shift will require the 600 workers to be terminated before reapplying for their positions at the new facility.

    Teamsters officials call that a “union busting” move and say Chedraui has made no guarantee employees will keep their jobs at the new center, which is expected to boost the company’s Southern California distribution capacity by 50%.

    Teamsters have filed seven unfair labor practice charges against Chedraui/Smart& Final, alleging violations of federal labor law. The allegations include anti-union retaliationregarding facility relocations and employee terminations, interference with workers’ right to organize and bad-faith bargaining.

    Workers from the two warehouses gathered outside a Smart & Final supermarket in Burbank on Tuesday, Oct. 17 to hand out leaflets expressing their concerns about possible job losses. (Photo courtesy of Teamsters Local 630)

    Workers from the two warehouses gathered outside a Smart & Final supermarket in Burbank on Tuesday, Oct. 17 to hand out leaflets expressing their concerns. It was part of a national day of action that saw employees giving flyers to customers at more than 50 Chedraui-owned stores throughout the U.S.

    Workers are demanding the company guarantee Local 630 members their jobs “at just wages and under a union contract.”

    “Some of these people have been with this company for 30 to 35 years,” said Oscar Ruiz, an organizer with Teamsters Local 630. “Just imagine your employer telling you, ‘You’ll have to start all over again. Oh, and by the way, we’ll see if we can hire you or not.’ “

    Representatives with Chedraui USA could not be reached for comment.

    Warehouse employees fear their pay could be lowered by as much as $10 an hour to be in line with what non-union workers earn at the company’s El Super distribution facilities.

    The Commerce employees currently make $30 to $32 an hour, while Riverside workers earn $2 an hour less. But their take-home pay is closer to $25 an hour when out-of-pocket expenses for their health plan are figured in, union officials said.

    If their pay is lowered to El Super distribution levels, employees say they would earn a top wage of around $20 an hour.

    Daniel Delgado, who has worked at the Riverside warehouse for nearly 20 years, said Chedraui has two options — bring El Super warehouse wages up to Smart & Final levels, or lower Smart & Final wages.

    “It doesn’t make sense for this company to bring the El Super employees up to what we’re making per hour,” he said. “At El Super, the starting wage is $15 an hour, so I could see my pay cut almost in half.”

    A U.S. subsidiary of Mexican grocery giant Grupo Chedraui, Chedraui USA’s portfolio includes 37 El Super stores, 30 Fiesta Marts and 250 Smart & Final locations across California.

    “When Chedraui came in two years ago, management started changing,” said Bobby Perez, who works at the Commerce facility. “They said, ‘Don’t worry — we’ll take care of you. You don’t have to vote union.”

    Perez said Chedraui’s existing workforce is valuable and should be treated as such.

    “We made this company,” the 52-year-old Whittier resident said. “We’re a well-oiled machine and we know how to work. We’re just sticking up for our rights and benefits.”

    In a May 9 letter to employees, Chedraui USA President Carlos Smith said the company’s network of five Southern California distribution centers is “already operating at capacity.”

    “The new Rancho Cucamonga facility will allow us to integrate and centralize our distribution operations while adding warehouse space to support growth,” Smith said. “We encourage individuals with warehouse experience, dependability and a positive job history to consider applying to join the new Rancho Cucamonga team in 2024.”

    ​ Orange County Register