TRACY — About 1,600 workers at a massive warehouse supplying Safeway supermarkets in three states went on strike Wednesday and blocked trucks from entering. Warehouse officials responded by bringing in replacement workers.
Violence ensued, with seven people injured mostly as a result of rocks and bottles being thrown at vehicles carrying replacement workers. Some of the injured had glass in their eyes after a windshield was broken.
Workers are demanding higher wages and safer conditions at the facility, which serves 245 Safeway stores in northern California, Nevada and Hawaii. They walked out after talks between union leaders and management broke down.
“We’d rather lose our jobs than continue to work under these conditions,” said Antonio Camacho, who has worked for two years loading pallets with groceries. “My back is hurting so bad that I’m having trouble meeting my production standards.” Martin Street, president of Summit Logistics that runs the giant warehouse for Safeway, said the company would bring in up to 1,650 replacement warehouse workers and drivers – and vowed there would be no disruption to deliveries.
“I’m hugely disappointed. Each time we felt we got close to a deal, it’s been thrown back in our faces,” Street said. “We will continue to operate the site (with replacement workers) for as long as it takes. At the end of the day, we will be delivering to the stores.”
Mike Padilla, a spokesman for the San Joaquin County sheriff’s department, said several people were injured when a rock or brick was thrown through the windshield of a vehicle carrying replacement workers into the warehouse.
A security guard who was videotaping pickets also was injured when he got into a scuffle with a striking worker. And Padilla said a cement truck driver who was going past the warehouse was injured when he was pulled out of his truck by strikers.
Padilla said no arrests had been made.
The strike began after an hour of talks between leaders of Teamsters Local 439 and Summit officials. Workers immediately walked off their jobs and drove outside the complex, where several hundred set up a picket line. Trucks trying to get in to the warehouse were turned away at the gate by pickets as sheriff’s deputies and state highway patrolmen stood nearby.
Earlier in the day, about 300 workers – some carrying picket signs and others rallying around a huge American flag – blocked trucks from leaving the warehouse and tried to prevent union leaders from getting inside.
The workers kicked and pounded on a pickup truck carrying Ed Speckman, the union’s chief negotiator, as it headed toward the warehouse. Speckman and other union officials finally got through to the warehouse.
In addition to picketing at the warehouse in Tracy, about 65 miles east of San Francisco, union members plan to distribute leaflets in front of as many as 42 Safeway stores – primarily in the San Francisco Bay area – urging consumers to boycott the chain.
The contract between the union and Summit expired Sept. 27. Members of Local 439 voted overwhelmingly Saturday to reject a final proposal from Summit.
Unsafe working conditions and low wages are the chief complaints of the union, which represents warehouse workers and truck drivers. Workers also want a say in establishing production standards.
Street rejected claims the warehouse is unsafe, saying Summit has reduced the accident rate significantly in the three years it has owned the facility.
“That’s why I find it so appalling that they keep mentioning safety, but they won’t be specific abut what the safety issues are,” Street said.
The union also is upset by the company’s insistence that its 500 drivers be paid per delivery and not an hourly rate.
Workers voted Oct. 3 to reject an offer from Summit that would have given them a 4.8 percent pay raise every year for the next five years, a 10 cent-an-hour hike in pension benefits and a guarantee that health insurance costs stay level for five years.
Street said the company rejected two counteroffers from the union during the eight weeks of negotiations, including its latest for a 20 percent across-the-board wage increase.
Street said the union also wanted production standards that would drive overall labor costs up by about 20 percent, costing the company $60 million in the first year alone.
Under the current contract, Teamsters drivers make $18 an hour, and warehouse workers earn $11 to $13 an hour.