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Teamsters members at Chedraui USA-owned Smart & Final distribution centers in Commerce and Riverside are worried about the company’s plan to close those operations and have them reapply for their jobs at a bigger Rancho Cucamonga facility that’s set to open in 2024.

Chedraui acquired Smart & Final in 2021 for $660 million.

See more: Labor disputes, walkouts, protests rampant throughout region

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The 600 workers in Commerce and Riverside — represented by Teamsters Local 630 — say the company has made no guarantee they will keep their jobs at the new 2.4 million-square-foot distribution center, which is expected to boost Chedraui’s Southern California distribution/warehouse capacity by 50%.

And if they do, they fear their wages could be lowered by as much as $10 an hour to be in line with what non-union workers earn at the company’s El Super distribution facilities.

The Commerce employees currently make $30 to $32 an hour, while Riverside workers earn $2 an hour less. But their take-home pay is closer to $25 an hour when out-of-pocket expenses for their health plan are figured in, union officials said.

If their pay is lowered to El Super distribution levels, employees say they would earn a top wage of around $20 an hour.

Representatives with Chedraui USA could not be reached for comment Monday.

A U.S. subsidiary of Mexican grocery giant Grupo Chedraui, Chedraui USA’s portfolio includes 37 El Super stores, 30 Fiesta Marts and 250 Smart & Final locations across California.

The workers held a rally last week to demand that the company guarantee their jobs at “just wages and with a union contract.”

The Commerce employees won election to Teamsters Local 630 in February, and the Riverside workers unionized in late May.

“When Chedraui came in two years ago, management started changing,” said Bobby Perez, who works at the Commerce facility. “They said, ‘Don’t worry — we’ll take care of you. You don’t have to vote union.”

Perez said Chedraui’s existing workforce is valuable and should be treated as such.

“We made this company,” the 52-year-old Whittier resident said. “We’re a well-oiled machine and we know how to work. We’re willing to work 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week if that’s what it takes. We’re just sticking up for our rights and benefits.”

A plan for expansion

The distribution shift is part of Chedraui’s growth plan that will also see three more Smart & Final stores open this year in Lancaster, Lompoc and Madera, as well as two El Super stores, one in San Ysidro and the other in Las Vegas.

The company also plans to remodel more than 40 stores across all of its retail banners.

In a May 9 letter to employees, Chedraui USA President Carlos Smith said the company’s network of five Southern California distribution centers is “already operating at capacity.”

“The new Rancho Cucamonga facility will allow us to integrate and centralize our distribution operations while adding warehouse space to support growth,” Smith said. “We encourage individuals with warehouse experience, dependability and a positive job history to consider applying to join the new Rancho Cucamonga team in 2024.”

The new facility, Smith said, will employ “significantly more employees than all of our current in-house distribution centers combined” and increase Chedraui’s Southern California distribution/warehouse capacity by 50%.

Smith said the company just signed a lease on the new center and plans to invest more than $75 million in the integration effort. He said it will result in better service and reduced transportation and real estate costs.

Yvonne Wheeler, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, noted that Chedraui is expanding, but said “they want to create wage disparities and lower standards for working conditions in Los Angeles at the expense of the workers.”

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