California grocery workers authorize union to call for strike

Thousands of grocery workers in Central and Southern California have voted to allow their union to call a strike against several major supermarket chains as contract negotiations are set to resume this week.

About 47,000 workers in hundreds of Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Wings have started voting beginning last week and the results were announced on Sunday.

A possible withdrawal will include grocery clerks, meat breakers, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians represented by seven local residents of the International Federation of Food and Trade Workers.

A blow was not delivered immediately. The union said talks would resume on Wednesday and if the bargaining broke down again, it would decide what steps it would take next.

Negotiations with Ralphs, owned by Kroger, and Albertsons, owner of Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions, ended without an agreement before their last three-year contracts expired on March 6.

The union said the next day that the companies’ wage offer was a “shockingly low” 60 cent increase and well below workers’ cost-of-living needs. Employees were asking for a $5 per hour raise, among other proposals.

“Both companies have refused to agree to expand store safety committees, and have not yet negotiated meaningful health and welfare benefits,” the Food and Trade Union Federation’s statement said.

The union said that during the last day of negotiations it stressed the essential role that grocery workers have played during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bargaining committee member Erlene Molina, an employee of Ralphs, told the company’s negotiators, “We saw how people were behaving like the world was over, but we couldn’t stay home. We knew we had an obligation to our community, so we were coming all the way,” the union said. day “.

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Grocery chains did not immediately comment Sunday on the strike permit.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Ralphs’ statement last Monday said the vote creates “unnecessary anxiety for our partners and communities, at a time when we must come together in good faith bargaining to find solutions and compromises. At Ralphs, we remain focused on settling a deal with the UFCW.”

The Albertsons Companies said in a statement last week that the goal of the negotiations is to “provide our employees with a fully competitive compensation package for wages, health and welfare and pension benefits.”

“We are committed to working collaboratively to ensure we reach an agreement that is fair to our employees, is beneficial to our customers, and allows Albertsons, Vons, and Wings to remain competitive in the Southern California market,” the statement said.

The union has not yet reached agreements with other supermarket chains, including Gelson’s and Stater Bros. Markets and Super A.

Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons employees voted in 2019 to authorize the strike, but contracts were eventually reached with no exit.

A strike and shutdown in 2003-2004 put nearly 70,000 grocery workers in Southern California on sit-down lines for more than four months.

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