Neighborhood grocery workers feed their shoppers and neighbors everyday. In June, we will showcase profiles on Food Fight Heroes to feature the hard workers who keep our community stores running.
This week, we speak with Darrell Ledford of Pavilions 2119. Darrell, a Meat Cutter, has worked for Vons/Pavilions for 45 years. Once a member of the dissolved Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Workmen, he’s got over 30 years of membership with UFCW Local 135.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: Where do you work, Darrell? Have you worked there for all of your 45 years with Vons/Pavilions?
A: Which San Diego stores have I worked in? It’d be easier to say which stores I haven’t. I have worked in virtually every single Vons in East County and South Bay. Once upon a time as a Floater, I worked in up to five stores a week. And it was fine with me.
The store I work in now is in North County. Contractually, the company cannot send me more than 25 miles away from my home. So, they’re sending me 22 miles from my home in the worst traffic in San Diego.
Q: That’s a long way to go. What keeps you going?
A: Yeah. It’s hard work. It’s stinky. It’s cold. I can tell you so many people who have worked into our department and left within a week because they couldn’t handle it.
But it’s a noble profession. It’s something you can have so much pride in — if you know what you’re doing.
There is always something to learn and there is always something new coming in. I hate the drive; the work is exhausting. But Pavilions is letting me do things I’ve never done. I’m working with dry-aged beef; I’m working with wagyu; I’m working with jidori chicken; I’m working with products that, after 45 years, I’ve never seen. Now, I cut them every day.
There are fun things that I do that allow me to have pride in what I do. I am proud of myself, I am proud of my family, and I am proud of what I do.
Q: In your 46th year of union membership, what keeps you involved and active in UFCW?
A: There is a quote: “If we don’t hang together, we’re gonna hang separately.”
In unity — in union — we stand. Individually, we beg. Without union, our voices mean nothing… It’s been proven over and over again: if you just expect corporate America to do the right thing, you’ll be disappointed.
You have to stand up; you have to demand; and you have to make them do it. And that’s where we’re at right now.
Q: You say, “that’s where we’re at right now.” Can you tell me more?
A: We’ve been without a [grocery] contract for four months. Northern California has been without a contract for seven months. Now, [the grocery corporations] finally put an offer on the table and say that they want to cut our wages and knock back GM salaries? They just delivered $250 million of bonuses to Vons executives but they’re claiming they’re broke.
They can’t make these profits and give this sort of money to a few people on top and not expect the people who did the work for them to fight for a living wage.
[We] shouldn’t have to work 4–5 jobs; [we] shouldn’t have to work only 24 hours in this job.
Q: Why is a fair new grocery contract important to you?
A: I’m at the end of the road; I could retire any time. This contract will be my final contract and I already have my pension, my health, and my welfare…
Coming up, the hours I had were really good. The hours [employees now] have? Eh. The benefits I had were really good. The benefits they have [now]? Eh.
There needs to be a resurrection of what we used to have — companies that value their employees and pay them a living wage and give them good benefits and let them have pride in what they do.
Why aren’t new folks joining this industry given the same opportunity I had when I joined? One where you can come in, raise a family, live the American dream, pay for a house, have a car… I mean, you’re not going to be rich. But you shouldn’t have to work 2–3 jobs to afford to live near your store.
Q: Without a fair new grocery contract, what does the future of your Meat Department look like?
A: Recently, our hours have gone down, down, down. Meat Cutter hours, in general, have gone down… I have more seniority than any Meat Cutter in San Diego. But if I go off on vacation, who covers me? Nobody. I can’t take vacations. I can’t take personal days. They have nobody to replace me.
They’re supposed to have people who are coming in to replace us. Well, what’s going to happen when I leave? Who will replace me? There is nobody to replace us. There is nobody being taught to replace us. It is not like it used to be.
Pretty soon, there will be a $15 minimum wage in San Diego. Well, that’s more than our contract guarantees us? Why would anybody come here to work hard for so little?
Stay tuned for more Food Fight Heroes in our series. Until then, please share our petition so Darrell and all our co-workers can earn what we deserve: FoodFightUS.com.