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Observer Staff Writer 

Socal Grocery Workers Strike May Have Been Averted

Unions Reach Tentative Agreement with Ralphs, Vons, and Albertsons

 

August 9, 2016

Supermarkets seem to have reached an agreement with their employees.

It looks like 47,000 Southern California grocery workers won't be stepping out on strike Monday, after all.

On Thursday, their unions reached a tentative contract with three supermarket chains.

Employees are scheduled to vote Monday on whether to approve the deal with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. August 8 was the deadline set for reaching an agreement when workers voted to authorize a strike last June.

"We are happy to say that five months after our previous contract expired, the corporate owners of Ralphs and Vons/Albertsons have agreed to a proposed contract," Rick Icaza, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 770, said in a statement.

The employees from about 350 stores in Southern California are covered by the new agreement.

The proposal was reached after a full week of round-the-clock negotiations. Details weren't released but both sides said they were happy with the outcome.

The previous contract expired in March.

The negotiations may have hinged on healthcare coverage and retirement. At one point, union officials reported that the supermarkets had offered pay raises of 10 cents per hour over three years but wouldn't fund health care coverage beyond current levels, which would have required employees to pay more or sacrifice coverage. The stores also wanted to reduce future pension contributions and to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65.

Both sides compromised in the tentative contract, Icaza said.

Supermarkets and employees have reason to try to reach a compromise when there is the threat of a strike.

A southern California grocery store strike and lockout in 2003-2004 cost supermarkets an estimated $1.5 billion and a long-term share of the local market, while strikers lost wages.

That conflict arose when management tried to reduce labor costs by reducing healthcare and other benefits, as a way to compete with non-unionized Walmart superstores.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 770 represented the employees in negotiations.

For over four months, 70,000 union workers throughout Southern California stood outside of stores and along streets to picket and protest the corporations. Some workers camped out in front of stores. The UFCW appealed for community support, and many customers joined in by honoring a boycott of the 900 stores on strike. A series of wildfires effectively broke the boycott, as people desperately stocked up on every available provision. The stores were stripped bare, and the boycott never gained traction again.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is a labor union representing approximately 1.3 million workers[1] in the United States and Canada in industries including agriculture, health care, meatpacking, poultry and food processing, manufacturing, textile, chemical trades, and retail food.

During the course of the 2003 dispute, UFCW members remained working under contract with the same supermarkets in other areas of the country.

 

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