SoCal grocery workers authorize strike against three major chains
Southern California grocery workers voted overwhelmingly Sunday to give their union the right call a strike against the Ralphs and Vons grocery chains in the region.
United Food and Commercial Workers officials said the vote passed by an overwhelming 95 percent. A similar vote in March authorized the union to call a strike against the Albertsons chain.
The vote came after a union-set deadline passed Thursday with no further contract offers from the three chains.
The union has been negotiating with Safeway Inc.’s Vons and Pavilions units, Kroger Co.’s Ralphs chain, and Supervalu's Albertsons chain since the current contract between the chains and 65,000 union workers expired in March. The contract has been automatically extending on a day-to-day basis while negotiations continued.
The UCFW reported that turnout for Sunday's vote was high, with ballots being taken well into the late evening. A formal announcement on the results is expected by the union today.
Under federal labor laws, unions are required to give 72-hour notice before calling an actual strike, and industry experts have said an actual strike by the UCFW is not likely before the end of this week.
The chains have agreed that if a strike is called against one of them, the others will lock out their workers.
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. At that time 94 percent of the workers were covered by company medical benefits. Under the current contract, that number has dropped to 54 percent according to the UFCW.
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.