SoCal grocery workers will vote on strike
The union representing 65,000 workers at three Southern California supermarket chains will ask members to authorize a strike after a union-set deadline passed Thursday without a break in the negotiations.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union said members at Safeway Inc.’s Vons and Pavilions units and Kroger Co.’s Ralphs chain, will begin voting on Sunday. Members will be asked to approve what the chains have already offered during the nearly six months of negotiations or authorize the union to call a strike. Workers at Supervalu Inc.’s Albertsons stores authorized a strike in March, shortly after the current contract expired. The contract has been automatically extending on a day-to-day basis while negotiations continued.
While results of the vote are expected to be available by Monday, 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.
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 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.