Valley News -

Union votes to authorize possible strike against grocery companies


Last updated 6/26/2019 at 2:49pm

TEMECULA - Unionized grocery workers in Riverside County and throughout Southern California raised the threat of the first grocery strike in the region in nearly 16 years by overwhelmingly voting to authorize a work stoppage unless a contract agreement can be reached, union officials announced.

According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1167 webpage, Southern California workers "overwhelmingly" approved economic actions and protests against Ralphs, Vons, and Albertsons if negotiations fail with the grocery giants. The organization did not provide official voting numbers.

Local 1167 members voted Monday and Tuesday, as did nearly 40,000 other grocery workers represented by a total of seven UFCW locals around Southern California and parts of Central California, to authorize a potential strike.

The union claimed Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons took in nearly $2 billion in tax breaks from the recent Trump tax cut; Ralphs made almost $2 billion in profits last year and gave executives raises of 19-34%; Albertsons/Vons paid investors $250 million in cash.

The union argued that so far, the chains are offering a wage increase of less than 1%, want to cut cashier wages by 25% and have put the healthcare plan at risk of bankruptcy.

The strike authorization vote means union negotiators have the power to call for a strike if deemed necessary, but it does not automatically mean a walkout will occur.

John Grant, the president of Los Angeles' UCFW Local 770, said the union plans to meet Thursday with picket captains to discuss "various forms of economic protest'' to oppose the failure of negotiations and to try to "get these companies back on the right path to provide a fair contract.''

The next bargaining sessions involving the union and the companies are scheduled for July 10, 11, and 12.

The contract between the union and the companies expired in March. That pact was approved by workers in 2016 and included annual raises for most workers, along with increased pay for entry-level cashiers and concessions on holiday pay and retirement age, union officials said at the time.

The job actions could include asking customers to boycott stores, Grant said.

The website shared quotes from union members who voted in favor of authorizing a possible strike.

"We work hard to make these companies successful and create an excellent shopping experience for consumers,” said Local 1167 member Tim Corrigan. "All we’re asking for is our fair share of these companies’ success. They pay their executives millions but offer us pennies.”

“I’m just trying to put food on my table and pay my rent,” said Local 1167 member Jason Campos. “I voted for this because we need to stand up to these corporations that are making billions but forcing employees to have one, two, three jobs just to make ends meet. One job should be enough.”

Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions issued a statement saying, "The outcome of the strike authorization vote does not change anything related to this process. We remain committed to negotiating a contract that is fair to all parties, including our employees, and will continue to work to achieve that.''

Ralphs issued a similar statement and said, for now, "it is business as usual in Ralphs stores.''

The labor dispute raises fears of a repeat of the 2003-04 Southland grocery strike that dragged on for 141 days. That work stoppage was estimated by some analysts to have cost the supermarket chains as much as $2 billion, with locked-out workers losing $300 million in wages.

Jeff Pack contributed to this report.


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