Late September 2003:
Riding my bicycle to work one sunny September afternoon, I wished that I could spend the day experiencing new things and exploring new places, rather than working inside the store. Soon after arriving at work, I learned that those adventures were just a few weeks away.
All through 2003, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) held negotiations with the management of Ralph's, Albertson's and Vons supermarkets in the Southern California markets. New competitors such as Trader Joe's, Costco and Wal*Mart were changing the way Americans shopped. In order to be more competitive, changes to current generous benefits and wages had to be considered. The UFCW called the bluff of the "Big 3" and a strike date was established: Sunday, October 12th, 2003.
During the second week of September, a sign-up sheet went up at the Caldwell store with a summary of the events occurring in California. It would involve working at a selected store to assist in keeping the store open during the strike. Several of my co-workers and I put our names on the list. A few days later, Roger, an assistant manager walked up to me while I was in the pet food aisle and said, "The email just came in. You are leaving in two weeks."
-Friday, October 10th, 2003. 10:00 a.m. - 34 hours before the walk out.
I arrived at the Boise airport with my skateboard and a small backpack. Several of the passengers on the plane were Albertson's employees headed for Southern California. Among them were Rosalia and Amanda who worked with me in Caldwell. After a quick stop in Portland, we headed for San Diego. From my window seat I enjoyed seeing Mount Shasta, El Capitan in Yosemite and the vast city of Los Angeles. The red tile roofs of Balboa Park impressed me as the plane descended into an overcast San Diego.
At the airport, an Albertson's representative waited for us. She told us a driver would take us to our assigned stores. My assigned store was in Escondido, a city 30 miles northeast of San Diego. After about an hour, a taxi van pulled up, and we boarded with about a dozen other Albertson's employees. The driver stopped in a seedy area north of downtown and asked our names, so he could record them and get paid. All the passengers were dropped off in pairs until Amanda, the driver and I were left. He told us that Escondido was a "very dangerous town," and warned us not to go out at night. By the time we arrived at our hotel, near the corner of Mission Street and Centre City Parkway, it was late in the evening. After checking in, Amanda suggested we walk across Mission Street to our assigned store. When we entered, employees were talking among themselves about what would happen at midnight the next day. A smiling young man came over and said in a friendly tone, "You two must be our replacements." I was surprised he knew why we were there. He and Amanda talked for a while. Five years later, they would be married.
Saturday, October 11th
In order to keep retail stores functioning during a strike, neither the store director, nor the assistant director is eligible to join the union. Mike, the store director, and Ernie, the Assistant store director were my immediate supervisors at the Escondido store. They had the difficult task of breaking the picket line which was filled with their friends and colleagues to continue administering the store. There was a mutual understanding that each party, the store directors and the picketers outside, each had an important job to do. Because of this understanding, Mike and Ernie were given friendly hellos and handshakes as they crossed the picket lines multiple times each day. I on the other had was not treated kindly when I crossed the picket lines to work.
Saturday, October 11th
Amanda got a call from Mike, telling her the strike was set to begin at 12 midnight.
We had an entire day to explore the city. Amanda suggested we visit Escondido World Marketplace - a permanent flea market behind the Albertson's store. The flea market was a mix of pawn shop, homeless camp and circus carnival. Later in the evening, Amanda and I helped Mike and Ernie close the store after the strike began.
Sunday, October 12th
Arriving at work at 6:30 a.m., I got a good handle on my role at the store, which was to keep the store running smoothly. By the time my shift was finished at 5 that afternoon, I was very comfortable with the operation of the store during the strike. That evening, I took a leisurely bus ride to the neighboring city of Vista. Finding Vista a dark and uninviting place, I got on the next bus back to Escondido.
Monday, October 13th.
Business at the store was pretty slow, so I got off work around 3p.m. and took the bus to Oceanside. There was an efficient bus transit center in Downtown Oceanside which made traveling between Escondido and Oceanside easy.
In 2003, Downtown Oceanside was undergoing the change from "Beach Bum City" to "Gentrified Beach Bum City." There were a few new buildings, but most of the downtown area was filled with grimy surf shops, new age hippie art shops and used car dealerships. I walked out on the Oceanside pier and watched the surfers in the waves below.
Tuesday, October 14th
I worked almost all day.
Each day I was given $40 cash above my salary for transportation and food. This cash allowed me to try out several of the restaurants within easy walking distance of the store. A full take out Chinese restaurant was inside the store. The Jack in the Box next to the hotel had the most convenient hours. At the time, sandwiches were 99 cents, and an order of French toast sticks was $1.20. Because food was so inexpensive, the $40 a day minus food and bus fares was more than adequate.
Wednesday, October 15th
After I mentioned my visit to the Oceanside Pier to Mike, he suggested I take the next day off to go fishing on the pier.
Continued in Part 2