Contract talks will resume on Wednesday in hopes of averting the walkout of thousands of Southern California grocers who have already authorized their union to go on strike if negotiations fail.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union announced on Saturday evening that its members had voted overwhelmingly to authorize a much-needed strike against stores, including Ralphs and Vons/Pavilions/Albertsons.
The ‘yes’ vote does not automatically result in a strike – it only allows the union to call one if no progress is made in collective bargaining.
About 47,000 workers represented by seven UFCW locals between central California and the Mexican border were eligible to vote. Membership covers workers at over 500 stores.
“Over the past two years of the pandemic, it is the hard work and sacrifice of our members that has helped these… businesses earn billions in profits,” according to a statement from the union. “As we continue at the bargaining table, all of our locals are committed to securing a contract that reflects all that these essential grocery workers have brought to their employers, customers and communities.”
Representatives for Ralphs, which has 184 stores and 18,000 employees in Southern California, called the union’s strike authorization “unrelated to Ralphs labor negotiations” and said it would not prevent company to resume negotiations for a new contract.
“Our proposal invests $141 million in new salaries and prevents rising healthcare costs. This is a serious commitment from Ralphs to Southern California and to our exceptional associates,” said Robert Branton, vice president of operations at Ralphs. “Our three goals throughout the negotiations are to reward and invest in our employees, to keep groceries affordable for our customers, and to maintain a sustainable business that creates jobs in the future.
“The Ralphs proposal meets all three objectives. The current UFCW proposal only meets the
one of these goals. We encourage UFCW to join us in meaningful and balanced discussions
negotiations to quickly grant salary increases to our associates.
SoCal grocery workers have voted to allow a strike if supermarkets don’t meet their wage demands. Darsha Philips reports for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on March 27, 2022.
Union officials announced earlier this month that contract negotiations had stalled. A three-year contract between union grocery and supermarket workers in Southern California expired on March 7. The grocery store employees continue to work under the terms of the previous contract.
“Bargaining committees made up of frontline grocery workers and union leaders came prepared with proposals that would fairly raise wages and improve store conditions to reflect the needs of workers in a pandemic and post-pandemic world. the union said in a statement earlier. this month. “The companies representing the stores offered pennies, a proposition that would ultimately be a pay cut due to inflation.”
Union officials said they wanted a $5-an-hour wage increase over the next three years, as well as tougher safety standards and “adequate hours and schedules.”
The grocery stores offered annual wage increases of 60 cents an hour over the next three years, for a total of $1.80.
Ralphs said his proposal also won’t increase health care costs for associates. Ralphs says he pays an average hourly wage of $19 an hour, with more than half of associates having been with the company for more than 10 years and more than a third for more than 20 years.
Ralphs also provides health care benefits and a pension to retired associates.
“Ralphs has always been and continues to be a place where our associates come for a job and stay for a career,” Branton said.
Union leaders have accused the supermarket chains of unfair labor practices, including accusing Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions of illegally surveilling protesting workers and accusing the two chains of refusing to implement wage increases as required by the previous contract.
In 2003-2004, grocery store workers in Southland walked out over a contract dispute, and the strike lasted 141 days. Some analysts say the work stoppage cost supermarket chains up to $2 billion, with workers losing $300 million in wages.
In the last round of bargaining in 2019, grocery store workers voted to authorize a strike, but negotiations continued for two months and a labor agreement was eventually reached, averting a strike.