By PILAR DE HARO
EL NUEVO SOL
In the continuous protest for better working conditions at El Super, 12 community leaders including clergy and a worker were arrested Wednesday night at the five point intersection on Cesar E. Chavez Street in East Los Angeles.
Flora Castaneda, 10 year worker at El Super and single mother of three children was among the 12 arrested in the act of civil disobedience.
The supermarket chain, owned by Mexico-based Grupo Comercial Chedraui, is largely made up of an immigrant workforce with about 50 locations in California, the majority in Los Angeles County. The store has been under scrutiny for labor and health code law violations, including not renewing their worker’s contract. For over two years the corporate has been refusing to bargain for fair wages and better working conditions, said Rigoberto Valdez, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, (UFCW).
Last month, a protest at El Super’s corporate offices in Paramount prompted that location to close. At Wednesday’s protest, the East Los Angeles store opened late and closed early in response to protests at around 5:30 p.m.
Getting off of work Wednesday, Fermin Rodriguez, 30, sat in solidarity with the 12 community leaders who planned to be arrested. Rodriguez has been a cashier for 10 years at El Super No. 13 and makes $12 an hour but has never had a set schedule. After being abruptly fired in January, Rodriguez returned to work this August following a federal court order that ruled in his favor. Rodriguez said he believed the firing came after he asked for more hours.
In Los Angeles County a liveable wage for a single adult is $12.44 according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator. But, many of the workers like Rodriguez are fighting for higher wages as they struggle to support their families with the rising costs in Los Angeles.
“I was fortunate enough to belong to one of seven union stores and had the help of the union,” said Rodriquez, referring to the United Food and Commercial Workers, UFCW. “I asked for more hours because working 32 a week is not enough as someone who takes care of their elder parents, pays for rent, food, and transportation.”
In the past, Rodriguez said workers have been reluctant to speak out about poor working conditions but now they are increasingly breaking the silence and seeking out the media.
“Before, they scared us with retaliation, but now we are not afraid,” Rodriguez said.
This company is the third largest retailer in Mexico and they can afford to pay their workers right but even full-time workers are susceptible of getting their hours cut, said Valdez.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), organized the night vigil on Wednesday with the support from The Clergy and Leity for Economic Justice (CLUE), East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC) and the InnerCity Struggles organization, who were one of the first organization to join the boycott among other groups.
“This is a shameful business,” said Maria Brenes, executive director of InnerCity Struggles, a community-based organization for families and youth in East Los Angeles. “Workers need to support their families and they are providing meager wages and not willing to come to bargain.”
The store’s health violations are also a concern to the predominantly low-income communities in the area.
“They have no respect for people who work or shop there,” said Brenes who explained how expired baby food was found in one of their stores.
Brenes said, we will continue to fight and rally and boycott until El Super comes to the table and today these arrests will let them know we are not giving up, if we need to shut the store down, we will.
The 12 arrested were released the same night on Wednesday.