Drama Intenso at Worker-Owned Rainbow Grocery Cooperative (San Francisco)

(May 2019.) Hola a todos. Rainbow Grocery Cooperative is the best grocery store in San Francisco as far as I’m concerned. I’ve shopped there every week since the days of the Old City. When I say the “Old City,” I’m talking about the “proudly-radical Bohemian San Francisco” that used to have the slogan “Anything goes in San Francisco” and “Liberal San Francisco.” Remember that “proudly radical” and activist City that we had a reputation of being for decades? Yeah well, that City is long gone, and few people even talk about it publicly. It’s as if the New City wants to erase the Old City from history.

The millionaire and billionaire-owned Tech Industrial Complex and Greed-based Real Estate Industrial Complex wrecking crews were warmly welcomed in by the conservatives — regardless of what political label they wore — to destroy the Old City and turn it into the City it is today: The opposite of what it was. Quite conservative, very conformist, lobotomised, cultureless and straight. The Castro is now a Breeder Mecca (no longer a Gay Mecca; His shirt said, “Fuck you, homo.” (San Francisco’s Castro) along with Cole Valley. It’s as if these new seemingly-lobotomised Millennial residents void of any social skills moved here to breed. The conservatives had long had this wet dream about San Francisco and finally achieved their goal.

I say all of the above because unfortunately and consequently, Rainbow’s customer base and many Rainbow workers have been forced out of The City because of these changes of turning San Francisco into the opposite of what it was.

I feel very comfortable shopping at Rainbow; I get smiles and “hello” from some workers. They’re real, not fake. I don’t say the same about most stores I go in these days where I feel like I’m being seen and watched as a criminal just because I walked through the front door. I hate shopping in most stores these days because of that, and only do so when it’s a necessity. At Rainbow, I don’t feel that way. You can take your time reading ingredient’ lists if you don’t already know what’s in something or take time making decisions about what to buy without someone thinking you’re up to no good. Rainbow is still a vegetarian-vegan grocery store and worker-owned and operated.

Some brief history: Rainbow, which opened in 1975, was a store of the Old City, which the Old City really supported. This was before the lobotomised and greed-based Tech Industrial Complex and Real Estate Industrial Complex came in and raped San Francisco forcing out most political and social justice activists/many longtime residents. In today’s New Conformist, Conservative, pro-Corporate, Culture-less and Lotobomised City of San Francisco — which is now a playground for the super-wealthy; the Bay Area is now called “Billionaire Bay” — The City doesn’t support the store the way the Old Proudly-Radical and Anything Goes City did. Yeah well, that City is gone. There’s little radical or “anything goes” here anymore. San Francisco has become quite conservative in recent years I’m sorry to say. Conformity — OBEY! WEAR BLACK AND GREY! which seems to be The City’s new unofficial dress code colours — is the nickname for the New City full of snarly-faced, angry-looking, chip-on-both-shoulders snotty Milleneals. I’ve heard some longtime locals say, “This New City sucks. Where did these snotty white trash Milleneals come from?” I’ve often wondered that myself. And most of the Millennial females look anorexic in their usual black tights and black, grey or white lingerie shirt with their snarly, “nobody home” face. I think it would break their face if they had to smile and try to be pleasant to anyone, and oddly they appear to have been born without vocal chords since the words “Hello” and “excuse me” are not in their vocabulary. They have no social skills whatsoever. I heard recently from a reliable source that the ageist Milleneals blame anyone older than themselves for all the problems in the world, especially for their own financial situation. They seem to take no responsibility for their own personal situation in life; it’s always somebody else’s fault. Note to seemingly-empty Milleneals: Wasting your day hunched over glued to that phone you’re thoroughly addicted to — as if it’s your only friend in the world — frantically thumb-typing on a so-called “social media network” is not indicative of possessing genuine social skills at all.

It’s a different (worse) time. I think most people shop at status-symbol WholePayCheck and insist on being seen there. Why? It’s just another faceless mega-chain corporate store. But I guess if one is shallow like that, being seen at WPC is important to them.

I realise what I’m about to ask is a long shot: Do any of the former or current Rainbow workers want to anonymously talk about what’s happened at Rainbow in recent weeks, the last couple of months? If you’re a former worker, you may have heard “through the grapevine” what happened. I’m talking about the discontent I’ve detected from most workers as if something major happened. If you work there, you likely know what I’m talking about. If so, please leave a comment.

As a longtime customer, I usually feel the mood of the store. And in recent weeks the mood has been rather down, as if a major temblor came through the store at one of their membership meetings and took most of the workers by shock. Some observations I’ve made: It would seem that the cashiers are leaving in droves. That’s the perception I have because on each visit to the store, a new cashier is being trained. A lot of unhappy faces, even with workers I’ve seen for years. Others that I’ve seen for years, I no longer see even when they were there when I was there in recent weeks. They’re now gone. That many people on a new shift? I can take some guesses at what happened, not that any of them did so I’m just speculating based on what I’ve seen from the workers:

I’m wondering:

Was their profit-sharing gutted?
Was their health care gutted?
Were their salaries reduced to minimum wage?
Did the membership vote to fire a large group/most of the workers? That’s the way it seems. I’ve thought that they had too many workers, with the number I’ve seen being around 250+. Why would they need that many workers?

I think workers are hired through word-of-mouth referrals from other workers. I once heard a worker say, “Well presumably people work here for a reason.” I don’t think that’s the case any longer. I think to many workers it’s just a job and they’re not working there for any other reason, compared to the days of the Old City. Someone who had read some of my other articles about Rainbow wrote me sometime ago saying she had applied at Rainbow but was never hired and was told about some stack of applications they had. She interpreted that to mean: “Don’t expect to be hired as there are hundreds of applications ahead of you.” Supposedly. As I e-mailed back to her: Regardless of some supposed stack of applications (which probably doesn’t exist), San Francisco is a very transient City. So how many people in their supposed (outdated?) stack of applications still even live here. I agreed with her. It sounded like they had no intention of hiring her when they refer to some stack of applications. Because in any job I’ve applied for in my past, their “stack” was 2-3 applications for the position they were hiring for because they’ve narrowed it down to that number of candidates.

I suspect that one or more of these factors above happened or a version of them. Each department in the store is run autonomously, but there is this “they” — this group that runs or manages the store? — that I’ve heard many workers over the years negatively refer to. One gets the impression that “they” are not a positive force for the rest of the workers and don’t care about some of the workers in certain departments. Like everywhere else, there’s always this vague “they” (who is this “they” anyway?) that workers keep talking about in a negative way? Some elitist group who thinks they know what’s best, excluding all the rest? If so, that reminds me of corporate. Although fortunately Rainbow is not corporate and does not have a corporate feel, thank goodness. WholePayCheck — fuck them! — is as corporate as you can get, with their so-called organic food grown in China.

I don’t blame the workers for not hiding their discontent. It’s very hard to be fake and pretend you’re happy at a job that you’re not happy in. I’ve noticed what I’m talking about with long-time workers. I thought Rainbow’s business had improved a bit — maybe — since the renovation but probably not enough to make a difference. I also never thought that the renovation was going to increase business. I remember hearing some workers talking about “It’s a new era for Rainbow.” That was just marketing bull shit or wishful-thinking. As I wrote at the time, generally speaking, lobotomised and phone-addicted Milleneals are not going to shop at Rainbow.

So if you worked at Rainbow or still do and care to let us know anonymously some chisme/gossip about what’s been going on, you’re safe here to comment. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Update (End of June 2019): The mood of the store is pretty bad now — as if things have gotten worse since I originally wrote about this topic — with the exception of a few (about 4) workers. Some of the workers are acting as if they are annoyed with having customers, and because of that there are some workers I avoid. Or, they are overall annoyed by having to be there in a store which seems to no longer care about them and are more preoccupied with thoughts of where they’re going to find another job. I sense that they’re now making minimum wage and are very worried about the survival of their store. I understand that. As the City changed over the years (for the worse), so did Rainbow. I think most of the workers know who the longtime customers are who, in part, kept them open this long and they should at least acknowledge that because with the mood and vibe of the store now it’s as if they don’t appreciate us. Some of the workers used to do that and seemed genuine about it, but I no longer see those workers. But to other workers, it’s just a job so they don’t seem to care. And the customers these days! Oh! With few exceptions, Rainbow has become so conservative and straight. And some of these straight guys seem to go out of their way to “prove” how straight they are by taking on this “tough guy, hard-assed” stance. Other straight couples feel the need to put on a heterosexual display of affection and make out in the Produce Section or near there. They go to a grocery store to make out? Loco./Crazy. And if you wear anything that has colour to it prepare to get a nasty snarly look from some judgmental straight guy self-entitled Millennial asshole in the Produce Department, especially. People like that forget the name of the store is called RAINBOW Grocery Cooperative, and not Black and Grey Grocery Cooperative. As I’ve said before, the “Anything Goes” Bohemian San Francisco is gone. The attitude today of this New Lobotomised Techie Capital City and Playground for the drab Super-Wealthy who have no taste is: “Conform! Obey! Wear (Funeral and Depressing) Black and Grey! 365 days a year. Period” If you don’t, expect to get a nasty, disapproving look because you’re not conforming. This City is the opposite of what it used to be. Where did these new residents come here from with a mission to change this City….for the worse?

One wonders: Even though I would hate to see this happen, but how long before Rainbow closes, having sold-out to a corrupt developer of glass-box condominiums? “Developers” are moving towards the store with tall towers of condos. As San Francisco continues its trend as a playground for the super-wealthy, the SF Planning Department seem to want Luxury Designer Condos (Dahling) on every inch of this City, and one would fit in Rainbow’s location. At this point, I do indeed think the workers would vote to sell the store if they were offered maybe $3MILLION USD to each worker. That amount of money is nothing to a condo developer. So the remaining workers could all retire, and I get the impression that the store has far less workers than they did. I’m speculating but when this shock wave that I’ve written about in this article came through the store, I think many workers were voted out by the membership, meaning fired. It used to be reported in the media that Rainbow had 250+ workers, which I thought was a lot and too many. One of the workers once told me “we have too many workers” which meant that the profit-sharing they receive at the end of the year had to be divided among too many workers. I often wondered where all of these workers were because I never saw that many. I think most were/are part-time. Regardless of the number of workers they currently have, I could easily see them selling out and closing the store without notice, unless they choose to have a “going out of business” sale. So, that’s what I expect to happen to Rainbow at some point, I suspect within the next 5 years and that’s being generous. It will be a sad day when this happens, and I and others would have to make other shopping choices after decades of supporting Rainbow Grocery Cooperative. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Week of 15 July 2019: Have they lost more workers at Rainbow? That’s the impression we’re getting. On our visits to the store this week they seemed to be short on cashiers. How could they be short on cashiers when we’ve been seeing cashiers trained since the drama intenso shocked the store. Last week, I heard a cashier ask a customer, “Do you need a receipt?” I’ve never heard that asked at Rainbow, which is why I perked up. They automatically give receipts. Or do they not want any customers returning anything to their struggling store, which of course a customer could not do without a receipt? Mi amigo/My friend overheard a senior citizen say when walking out of the store, “the cashier asked to see my ID. They’ve never done that before and it was after he had already given me my 10% off as a senior.” Are they hurting that much that they’re now checking to see who is a senior and who is not? I think they used to take the customer’s word for it. To us the store had an uncomfortable feel to it. It’s also being overrun by instacarters and phone addicts. One wonders how these pathetic people shopped before they got severely addicted to a phone? I don’t know who “they” are who seem to be running the show at Rainbow, but based on how most of the workers are acting, they’re in the process of ruining the store that some of us have appreciated for decades, and they are too short-sighted to see that. They seem to be taking measures to the extreme. Typical of misguided “management.” Chau.—el barrio rosa