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See’s workers leaflet public on Shattuck

By Robin Shulman Special to the Daily Planet
Friday October 20, 2000

After 20 years packaging chocolates at See’s Candies Ltd. in South San Francisco, Maria Teresa Rubio wants a pension she can live on and a guarantee that she won’t have to work more than 40 hours a week.  

She and four other factory workers passed out leaflets at the Berkeley’s See’s store on Shattuck Avenue for the second day Thursday. Workers at See’s South San Francisco and Burlingame factories have been on strike since Sept. 21.  

“We’re all together,” said Rubio, who came to picket on her day off from a part-time job she began Monday.  

The See’s company says candy is being made and distributed as usual. “We do not foresee any problems in providing product to our customers either now or in the upcoming holiday season,” See’s wrote in a press release. A small staff of replacement workers is working in the factories. 

Gretel Duong, manager at the Berkeley See’s store for 14 years, said she doesn’t have her usual stock. “We’re not getting everything we usually get.”  

She said she doesn’t have enough boxed chocolates.  

“And the candy is not coming from South City. It’s coming from L.A.,” she said.  

Duong also said only about 280 customers entered the store on Wednesday, a 20 percent decrease from the usual 350 customers. The picket was only half the day, so many of the customers – and those picking up free samples – did not cross the picket line. 

Other outlets, such as the wholesale store in San Leandro, have lost even more customers, Duong said.  

The strike is See’s first in 79 years of operation. The company’s contract with Local 125 workers expired last July. Negotiations between See’s officials and Local 125 broke down soon thereafter.  

Federal mediator Ruth Carpenter has been appointed to help find a resolution, but no negotiations are currently underway. 

See’s President Charles N. Huggins did not return repeated phone calls from a reporter. Nor did See’s Human Resources Director Donna Arevalo. 

According to the company’s statement workers are well-paid, noting they are eligible to receive $12.47 an hour after 800 hours of work. But Randy Roark, a spokesman for Local 125, said many See’s employees work only at holiday rush times, so it could take years to build up 800 hours. 

The statement from See’s said a four-day, 10-hour-a-day work week will help it to operate “most efficiently.” But workers want guarantees that they will not be forced to work longer than 40 hours a week under the 10-hour-a-day plan, Roark said. 

Over the summer See’s increased senior workers’ wages 50 cents, to $15 an hour. Starting salaries went up 75 cents, to $6.50 an hour. But Rubio and the other women protesting said no one can support a family on $6.50 an hour. “It’s not enough,” Rubio said. 

Workers are not accorded senior status until they clock 1,000 hours in a 12-month period. “I have a friend who’s worked there 10 or 12 years and doesn’t have medical insurance,” Rubio said.  

The South San Francisco factory is See’s main plant, producing 60 percent of all See’s candy. It employs 300 permanent workers a year, with another 300 seasonal hires. Women, mostly Asian American and Latina, form 80 percent of the Bay Area factory workers. 

After a month on strike, Rubio worries about how she will continue to pay rent and support her four children. “I need my job,” said Rubio.