Jul 10, 2006
The Ralphs grocery chain in Southern California agreed to plead guilty on a series of federal charges for illegally hiring more than 1000 workers during the supermarket strike and lockout nearly three years ago. Ralphs admitted that, in order to hide its illegal hiring, it used fake names and Social Security numbers, thus violating federal laws regarding identity fraud, pension reporting and Social Security and Internal Revenue Service record-keeping. It also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.
To settle this long list of charges, Ralphs agreed to pay a 20-million-dollar fine to the federal government, and another 50 million dollars into a restitution fund to the 19,000 Ralphs clerks and meat cutters who were locked out during the four-and-a-half month long strike. The UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) estimates that some workers would receive up to $3000 from the settlement. But in fact, this would cover only a tiny part of the pay and benefits that the workers lost during the strike. Nor does it make up for the massive concessions that the supermarkets were able to impose on the workers in Southern California as the result of using scab labor.
At a news conference, Rick Icaza, the UFCW president of Local 770 in Los Angeles, hailed the agreement. So did labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor at University of California at Santa Barbara. Said Lichtenstein, “The fact that Ralphs had to plead guilty and admitted to the tactics they used during the long dispute is clearly a victory for the union. But it’s also a shot across the bow to businesses who think the days of the Wild West have returned in labor relations.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. A victory for the workers could have meant a complete reversal of the concessions and repayment of all lost moneys.
During the strike itself – when it mattered – the federal government ignored Ralphs’ violations of the law – even though it was obvious from the very beginning what Ralphs was doing. The U.S. Justice Department said only that it would open an investigation – which dragged out for years, in contrast to how quickly the courts and prosecuting attorneys and even the White House act against strikers.
As for the supposed penalty that Ralphs will have to pay – it is just a slap on the wrist. The two million dollars Ralphs is to pay is about one tenth of 1% of the sales of Ralphs’ parent company, Kroger. And the corporate executives responsible for several felonies are not going to jail – on the contrary, they have been rewarded handsomely.
Rather than making “a shot across the bow to business,” the government is merely doing what it always does – watching the big corporations’ back in their continuing offensive against the U.S. working class.