Por PILAR DE HARO
EL NUEVO SOL
“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” chanted hundreds of El Super protesters outside the store’s corporate office in Paramount.
On Wednesday, El Super worker Flora Castañeda, protested along with hundreds of community members and clergy for better working conditions in front of the multimillion-dollar grocery chain store.
The Mexico-based Grupo Comercial Chedraui owns El Super and has about 50 locations in the Southwest, with the majority in California. Of those, only seven are unionized.
Store employees are predominantly low-wage immigrant women and for over a year workers have been fighting for improved conditions.
As an act of civil disobedience, 15 protesters had planned to get arrested outside the store but in response, the store closed the day of the protest.
“For us, it was a victory because rather than facing us they ran away like cowards,” said Rigoberto Valdez, director of organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers, UFCW.
On Wednesday, about 20 protesters closed down the intersection of Paramount Place and Lakewood Avenue by forming a circle of solidarity. The clergy sprinkled holy water and blessed those sitting in the circle, including 11 year worker, Flora Castañeda.
Castañeda, a single mother of three, is the shop steward at El Super No. 17, one of seven unionized stores.
Castañeda says retaliation scares workers from joining the fight.
“I don’t care if I come back to work and they mess with my schedule,” said Castañeda.
“I’ve had the same schedule for the past seven years so I’ll know. We deserve to be treated as human beings even if the owners are from Mexico.”
Castañeda was one of the 15 people who agreed to be arrested yesterday.
“I’m the strong one in my store where workers are scared to speak up and lose their job,” said Castañeda.“If I don’t no one will.”
Only 20 of the union workers and 15 non-union workers were present the day of the protest.
“Most of the workers had to work that day because Wednesdays are their sales special day,” said Valdez. “So it was hard to get the day off.”
A majority of protesters were from United Food and Commercial Workers, UFCW, and there was support from Korean Immigrants Worker Alliance, K.I.W.A., Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, CLUE, The Central American Resource Center, CARECEN, Clinic Romero, LAANE, East Los Angeles Community Corporation, ELACC among others.
To compensate customers for the store closing El Super provided them with $5 discount when they spent $20 or more in neighboring stores, Long Beach and Southgate on the same day.
The local union will continue the boycott lines and on November 18 are planning a large-scale mobilization.