By Michael Israel and David Roddy
Your cheatin' heart
Will make you weep
You'll cry and cry
And try to sleep
But sleep won't come
The whole night through
Your cheatin' heart
|Photo credit Layla Griffin|
Jackson is the heart of Amador County, a small county at the western foot of the Sierra Nevadas. Amador shares features in common with rural communities across the West: mostly white, Catholic, working class, and Republican. The county is home to the state’s largest Tea Party, and a majority of the county voted in favor of Proposition 32, an anti-union state ballot initiative. Unsurprisingly, the November strike at Raley’s polarized the community, demonstrating at once the optimism of labor's resurgence and the pitfalls facing a revitalized workers movement.
In June, 2012, 81% of the Jackson store employees at Raley's, a privately held company originating from the nearby town of Placerville, voted to strike amidst prolonged negotiations between their union, UFCW, and company executives. Negotiations continued into the fall, with the company refusing to make concessions to the union. On October, the company made their final proposal, which included cuts to retirement and medical benefits, on the premise that the company was financially strained due to competition with non-union retail stores such as Walmart, with its “Neighborhood Market” branded grocery stores opening across northern California in September. When asked to share their books with union negotiators to demonstrate this loss, the store refused, prompting a walkout on November 4. The rank and file who walked shared the unions credulousness at the statement of financial distress. One Jackson deli worker responded to the claim, “...economic hardship? Yes, but no more than any other entity currently. I do feel they were exaggerated.”
Another employee who worked for the company for twenty years stated:
The biggest hot button for me was the risk of losing the union health and welfare benefits for retirees. The second biggest was the risk of [Raley's President and CEO] Mike Teel being in control of our trust fund. If that would have happened we wouldn’t have a trust fund much longerThe behavior of the bosses, the ambitions of the strikers, and the betrayal of the strike-breakers in Jackson is reflective of the prospects of a revived labor movement in Middle America. This series will narrate the history of the strike, and explore the implications of the strike for the future of the movement.