Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My turn: Raley’s the winner in Raley’s vs. labor

By Kevin Weber, Raley’s Store Director

When Thomas Raley opened his first store in Placerville in 1935 as a drive-in market, it was one of many firsts. He pioneered the first pre-packaged meat department. He built the first side-by-side grocery and drug store. And Tom was the first to introduce a natural foods department.

During the next seven decades, Raley’s grew to become the dominant supermarket operator in the Sacramento area. Its growth continued throughout Northern California and into Nevada with more than 100 stores and 13,000 employees.

Times were good, and sometimes very good. But when the current economic downturn hit in 2007, no business, including Raley’s, was immune to the long-term impact it would have. Many businesses were intent to ride it out, others could not and closed. With a strong financial history, Raley’s endured the economic turbulence as best as possible, but there came the time when black went to red on the financials.

That’s the time when all costs were examined: Operations, sales, distribution, food costs, executive salaries and the cost of labor. Labor is where significant cost savings could be made because their unionized employees were earning higher wages and had better benefits than their union counterparts at other grocery chains such as Safeway and Save Mart.

It was time to “sharpen the pencil” and engage in some straight talk with the unions. After 15 months of negotiations — meeting sometimes daily with the unions — both sides hit an impasse.

Another first in the 77-year history of the company was the nine-day employee strike in November. The out-of-touch union leadership was intent on protecting its own self-interests. The villains here brought in hundreds of union employees from other stores to create an impact.

Raley’s invited the union to the bargaining table once again and after many days and nights of marathon negotiations, a deal was reached. The strike ended, just days before the week of Thanksgiving — one of the busiest times for grocery stores. And all the union members got their jobs back.

What people don’t realize is that even though the employees are back at work, customers may not be back shopping. If recovery takes too long, layoffs can loom for the very employees who were striking and contesting wages and benefits. If business doesn’t recover, that’s one less union employee to negotiate for, and no one likes cost savings to come in this way.

Despite its economic woes, Raley’s has been steadfast in its commitment to the community. The list of community, civic and charitable organizations is long as it is wide — from the East Bay to Nevada and from Chico to Modesto — and it serves multiple levels of the community:  The environment, education, families, youth programs, the elderly and more. One of its most successful endeavors is the Food for Families program that has raised $27 million and 17 million pounds of food for more than 72 local food banks. Right now, Raley’s will double all customer donations.

El Dorado County — the El Dorado Hills Library, El Dorado Hills Community Services, Hands for Hope, El Dorado High School music department and the Food Bank of El Dorado County — have been the beneficiaries of Raley’s generosity many times over. In this season of thanks, we can be thankful to have such a wonderful community partner and a fine place to shop for food, the Raley’s Family of Fine Stores.

Kevin Weber is Raley’s store director.

Special to the Democrat


Discussion | 10 comments

  • Phil VeerkampDecember 04, 2012 - 8:40 pm

    Thanks for stocking WHITE BALSAMIC VINEGAR. Safeway and Savemart do not. A splash of WHITE BALSAMIC VINEGAR is really nice in my soups, salads, fish and fries. Thank you!

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  • James E.December 04, 2012 - 9:02 pm

    Phil, my wife is big on the balsamic vinegar thing. Me, not so much -- I think my taste buds died from eating canned food in the Army.

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  • cookie65December 05, 2012 - 8:44 am

    James, if you want to finish off your taste buds I recommend Xeloda.

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  • James E.December 05, 2012 - 12:51 pm

    Mr. Weber is not the Raley's store director at the Placerville store (unless there has been a change in the last 20 minutes). Not sure why he would be writing in the Mt.Democrat (why not the paper in whatever location he is in) and also not sure who came up with the title, "Raley's the winner in Raley's vs. Labor." Does Raley's really want a continuation of bad feelings -- I would think Raley's would want to put the strike behind them and focus instead on encouraging shoppers to return to Raley's. This all very strange that Raley's would support this "My Turn" column.

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  • James E.December 05, 2012 - 1:33 pm

    Mr. Weber, did you clear your article with Raley's Headquarters in West Sacramento? I very much doubt that Raley's wants a continuation of ill feelings. It does nothing to add to their bottom line. Phil, sorry, I had to do one more comment before I head out to do stuff (which includes a shopping visit to Raley's).

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  • Phil VeerkampDecember 05, 2012 - 1:37 pm

    Don't for get the balsamic, James!

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  • Phil VeerkampDecember 05, 2012 - 1:37 pm

    . . . . forget

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  • NancyDecember 06, 2012 - 7:07 am

    Raleys and Bel Air are fine stores. I really like their organic vegetables and milk. I wish Bel Air would go back to making sour dough bread. Whole Foods in Folsom makes huge loaves of sour dough which are fantastic.

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  • GenoDecember 06, 2012 - 7:47 am

    James E, There is more than one Raley's / Bel Air in El Dorado county.

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  • James E.December 06, 2012 - 9:51 am

    Geno, true. Shingle Springs and El Dorado Hills. Thanks for reminding me -- also, Lake Tahoe. Just guessing that Joyce Raley Teel would have not have co-authored the piece, as it puts Raley's in a bad light.

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