The first thing that strikes you about Flora Casteneda is her humor and her tough, “seen it all” personality. Flora grew up near the El Super store she has worked at for the past 10 years in South Los Angeles on Slauson Avenue. She may be a single mom who grew up in poverty, but she will make you smile at her street slang witticisms.
Flora began her career as a cashier in the grocery industry at the tender age of 22. Growing up in a large family of 14 with immigrant parents from Mexico, Flora grew up with challenges and never completed college. El Super (formerly Gigante) provided just the opportunity she needed to work full-time and prioritize her kids. Her schedule was flexible enough to allow her to spend time with her kids and go to their school functions, which along with being part of a union was a major appeal for her, cementing her long-time commitment as an employee. She was even able to learn Spanish by working there. Flora is the proud mother of 3 mixed race children, one of whom works at El Super with her.
Though the picture wasn’t quite as rosy as it seemed. Flora had experienced and seen colleagues that spoke out about deplorable conditions be terminated. Specifically, the undocumented immigrant workers who complained were targeted due to their legal vulnerability.
The issue of not having paid sick time off affected many parents working at the store like her who couldn’t afford to take care of their families when they were sick and often had to come into work sick themselves. Her union contract stipulates that if there are more than 3 consecutive unpaid sick days in a row, then a doctor’s note is needed. In reality, management has demanded doctor’s notes from workers taking less sick days off and questioned and pressured employees to come in sick.
She found that the company looked for various ways to skimp resources from its workers to increase its profit. From not providing paid sick time, to insufficient and always changing hours, to not providing promised replacement uniforms, El Super has forced its workers to pay instead.
Flora herself has had to come into work with a ripped uniform, with holes in the armpits that the company refused to pay to replace. Customers have questioned why the otherwise helpful and competent employee is wearing a torn shirt and she can only reply that this is what the company has provided her.
Flora is now a leader amongst her co-workers in demanding that the company provide much needed paid sick time and raises after years of stagnant wages. The feisty, smart woman isn’t easily intimidated. She understands her union contract thoroughly and now educates her other coworkers on their rights.