Deadline for SoCal grocery contract set for noon today
Union officials representing workers in negotiations with three major Southern California grocery chains have called an afternoon press conference to discuss the possibility of a strike vote.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union set a deadline of noon today for the three chains, Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons, to make a contract offer.
Union officials and officials from the three chains, Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions units, Kroger Co.’s Ralphs chain, and Supervalu Inc.’s Albertsons, have been meeting since the current contract expired in March. It has been renewing automatically on a day-to-day basis during negotiations.
“I hope — we all hope — there’s a deal we can recommend to our members,” Mike Shimpock, a spokesperson for unions told Reuters. “Unfortunately, that looks like that’s not going to happen.”
Officials from the supermarket chains also told Reuters they believe an agreement is not likely by Thursday.
While some contract details have been worked out, health care and wages have reportedly been the major sticking points in negotiations. Under the previous contract, employees received some bonuses but no raises. Employees last received raises in 2002. In 2002, 94 percent of the workers were covered under the contracts medical benefits. Under the current contract, that number has dropped to 54 percent according to the UFCW.
If no agreement is reached, union members at Ralphs and Vons stores will vote on Sunday. A two-thirds majority is needed to authorize a strike. Union members at Albertsons stores authorized a strike earlier this year. While results are expected to be available by Monday if a vote is taken, the unions are required to give the chains 72-hour notice before calling an actual strike. Industry experts believe that a strike would not be likely before the end of next week.
The chains have agreed that if a strike is called against one of them, the others will lock out their workers.
In late 2003 and early 2004, a five-month-long strike put nearly 70,000 grocery workers in southern and central California on the picket lines. The acrimonious strike by the union and lockout of employees by some chains centered on cuts in union member benefits and eventually cost supermarkets $2.5 billion in profits.
The 8,000 members of the California Teamster's union honored the UFCW picket lines during the 2004 strike.