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Southern California members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union have voted in favor of a strike against Safeway, Pavilions, Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons stores if salary and benefits negotiations fail.
Union leaders believe that the supermarkets’ offer would cut pay and health care benefits dramatically, online business journal L.A. Biz reported, with the current proposal providing one 10-cent hourly wage increase in March 2017, but none in 2016 or 2018. The grocers also would give bonuses of 10 cents an hour and 15 cents and hour during that time. Union officials accuse the chains of trying to cut costs ahead of the state minimum hourly wage increase to $15 by 2020, with current hourly wages at $10.10. They also said grocers would not fund health care beyond current levels, and would reduce future pension contributions and the option of earlier retirement (at 60 instead of 65). Negotiations will resume next week; the grocery companies and unions have 10 meetings scheduled through late July.
Although no strike date has been set, if approved, it would affect more than 60,000 Southern California workers. The last major grocery strike, in 2003 and 2004, involved thousands of workers for 141 days, costing Ralphs and Albertsons $1.5 billion in sales.
Ralphs said it would initially close all stores if a strike occurs.
“During a strike, it is difficult to create a good shopping experience for our customers and a good working environment for our employees,” said spokeswoman Kendra Doyel.
Albertsons, too, may close stores – up to 100 of them – for some or all of the strike.
“One of the lessons we learned during the 2003-04 labor dispute is that it doesn’t make good business sense to try to operate all our stores during a strike,” noted spokeswoman Christie Ly.
Conversely, Vons said that it intends to keep its stores open in the event of a strike.