When UFCW Local 135 has an action in front of any store, you can hear Ignacio (Iggy) Ponce De Leon over the loudspeaker in Albertsons 758 announcing “Attention all UFCW Members, make sure you go outside and sign the petition!”
Or sometimes when the union representative enters, he will announce, “Attention all UFCW members, Sarah Saez is in the house.”
Iggy became a steward in the early- to mid-80s – he doesn’t remember exactly, but he’s loved every minute of it. In the beginning, he went to all the meetings and listened to “the very best stewards” who were his mentors. Now he mentors younger members and continues attending union meetings.
Iggy graduated high school in 1968 and went off to fight in Vietnam. When he got home, he got his first job in Los Angeles in a small grocery store. He loved the business and he had saved a boat load of money from his time in Vietnam.
“I saved my money in Vietnam and came back with $20,000,” he said. “Cal Vet matched another $20,000 and I bought a bunch of equipment and opened a grocery store of my own in Los Angeles. It was called Iggy’s Market and I was the youngest person with a liquor license in the state. I had to be bonded and certified because I was only 20. No one that.
He bought bologna from Oscar Mayer and sliced it up. They didn’t have pre-packaged bologna back then. He bought giant slabs of bacon from Farmer John and he bought his produce and eggs from local farmers.
Iggy ran his store for 13 hours a day, seven days a week for 13 years. He had six employees. He sold five loaves of bread for $1.
“I got held up three times and the third time I sold the store to a family from Detroit. All my life I’ve been very lucky to have the right people give me advice.”
So, he invested the money from the sale of Iggy’s Market and moved on to Alpha Beta. Over the years he has worked at Big Bear, Food Basket, Lucky’s and currently is working at Albertsons in Spring Valley.
“I got involved immediately with the union because I had health insurance for the first time. I’m so happy with my union. It gives me great pleasure every time I go to a union meeting and someone recognizes me and says hi!
“I love the thrill of being side by side with other unions, and I want to talk about Mickey (Kasparian). Mickey took us in the best direction. We started getting involved in the city council. I saw the importance – we set the pace with the politicians.”
During the 2003/2004 strike, “Juan Vargas (now a congressman) walked beside me. He stood next to me inside a store with a bullhorn. It was intense and exciting – my adrenaline was sky high!”
Iggy is now 66 years old and retired at the end of 2017. He has kept very busy since then.
“The first thing I’m going to do is join the Retirees’ Club and get my other retiree friends to join too. I look forward to traveling to the Vatican and to Ireland. I’m going to rent a car and enjoy the countryside.”
Iggy is a Eucharistic Minister at St. Charles Catholic Church in Imperial Beach, and the priest is looking forward to him starting a food bank.
He also has a large family—35 members and growing, so he continues to be busy with them as well as his friends, hang out at his house, watch sports and drink “ice cold Coronas.”
He misses his customers, the union and friendships at work and the love of his job, he said.