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SoCal Grocery Workers Strike: Talks Underway

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — Talks resumed Saturday between Southern California grocers and stores including Ralphs and Vons/Pavilions/Albertsons, with the workers’ union having already authorized a strike if no agreement is reached on a new contract.

“We’re back at the table today and would like to close a deal as soon as possible,” John Votava, director of general affairs at Ralphs, told City News Service.

Talks were scheduled until Tuesday, when the union’s negotiating team was due to meet and decide on the next step if no deal was reached.

The strike authorization vote took place last weekend. About 47,000 workers represented by seven United Food and Commercial Workers locals between central California and the Mexican border were eligible to vote. Membership covers workers at over 500 stores.

A three-year labor contract between union grocers and Southern California supermarkets expired on March 7. Employees continue to work under the terms of the previous contract.

Union officials said they were seeking a $5-an-hour wage increase over the next three years, as well as tougher safety standards and “adequate hours and schedules.”

“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 to 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.

The 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.

“While some retailers may choose other options, we must do what is best for our associates and our customers,” said Robert Branton, vice president of operations at Ralphs, referring to a separate agreement between the section. UFCW Local 770 and Stater Bros. “We count on UFCW to resume balanced and meaningful negotiations.

“…At Ralphs, we want what’s right for our associates, more money in their paychecks, continuing to provide industry-leading health benefits, and balancing that investment with keeping groceries at a low price. affordable,” Branton continued.

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.

Copyright 2022, City News Service, Inc.