Haggen has received substantial community backlash since it was reported earlier this week that the Washington-based grocery chain laid off 14 developmentally disabled courtesy clerks in southern Santa Barbara County. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) is now providing additional information about the scope of the layoffs — not only were disabled employees terminated, but several hundred other workers also lost their jobs when the entire courtesy clerk position was eliminated.
After Haggen acquired 146 Albertons and Vons locations throughout California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada as part of a merger deal between Safeway and Albertsons, Haggen reduced most employees’ hours and eliminated the courtesy clerk position, which violated an agreement with the union, representatives said. Employees in those positions bag groceries, collect carts, and perform some janitorial duties.
In a press release, UFCW President Ricardo Icaza said that Haggen also cut the hours of most checkers. “While we understand that Haggen is struggling in some locations,” he said, “we are totally opposed to their decision to reduce most full-time food and general merchandise clerks.”
Haggen has declined to say exactly how many terminations took place, but UFCW representatives said there have been “hundreds.” Icaza said UFCW is asking those employees who do not believe they were laid off according to seniority to reach out to the union. Additionally, the union has filed a grievance with the state on behalf of all employees who faced reduce hours.
Santa Barbara’s PathPoint advocacy organization continues to work with those developmentally disabled employees who were laid off. Jaime Rutiaga, PathPoint Manager of Employment Services, said, “Haggen has changed the business market relationship [between their supermarkets and PathPoint] in Santa Barbara.” Previously, PathPoint provided local supermarkets with a “stable, consistent workforce,” people who are “happy to go to work,” Rutiaga said.
At this point, all employees who have been laid off are unable to apply online for employment at Vons because of an online safeguard in place to insure that Vons abides by a Federal Trade Commission agreement. However, if potential employees present their layoff notice in person, Vons personnel can assist them through the safeguard.
Vons and Albertsons are working with PathPoint to rehire the disabled Santa Barbara employees, Rutiaga said. “[They] have been great in supporting people with disabilities.” Carlos Illingworth, Director of Communications for Albertsons and Vons, confirmed the stores “will do anything possible to get those affected back to work.” Rutiaga explained the real issue is that “these are union positions” that should have been protected.
In an interview, Craig, a disabled PathPoint client and Southern California native who worked for over two years as a courtesy clerk at the Fairview Vons before Haggen let him go, said he “loved everything” about his old job and will miss “the people” most of all. He is currently unemployed and seeking work with assistance from PathPoint. Commenting on his layoff, Craig said, “It’s not good for me” and that his job gave him a sense of “purpose.”