Union leaders are pessimistic that they will reach a contract deal with three Southern California supermarket chains and fear they are moving toward a strike. Other unions in Los Angeles and San Diego joined in solidarity with Local United Food & Commercial Workers this week. Negotiations with a federal mediator continue through this month.
No talks are schedule for July. Greg Conger; president of Local 324 in Buena Park, said the grocery chains refuse to compromise on health care proposals, so he is pessimistic that a deal will be reached. "We're getting closer to a strike," Conger said. "I'm concerned they're going to back us and themselves into a corner we can't back out of." A spokesman for the grocery chains said that any talk of strike is "unnecessary" and that there are still schedule days of negotiations. "The only place where we can reach an agreement is at the bargaining table, and we believe our focus should be there, reaching a fair and reasonable contract," said Daymond Rice, a Vons representative speaking for the tree chains.
Some 62,000 United Food and Commercial Workers voted April 21 to authorize a strike against Albertson's, owned by Supervalu Inc.; Ralphs, owned by Kroger Co.; and Safeway Inc., which owns Vons & Pavilions. The last contract expired in March. The last strike began in October 2003, with 70,000 grocer workers walking picket lines at 900 stores. When the strike ended in February 2004, grocers had lost an estimated $1.5 billion. The sticking point this time is health care benefits, with the companies insisting on increased deductibles, higher employee out-of-pocket expenses and other plan changes.
The proposals would push some $450 million back on employees, Conger said. The companies counter that the proposal is reasonable and will still provide employees with "quality, affordable health care," said Fred Muir, a spokesman for Albertson's. "Although the proposal makes some changes to the current health and welfare plan, employees would pay as little as $9 a week for coverage, receive coverage if they work 16 hours per week depending on their job, and have access to an excellent health care plan that allows them to receive comprehensive coverage for themselves and their families," Muir said.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor started a fund to support striking workers and other labor leaders promised to honor the picket lines at all the grocery stores. Asked if there is a strike deadline, Conger said leaders have discussed setting a date but haven't reached a consensus.
To support Southern California Grocery workers, head to UFCW's E-Activist page: https://secure3.convio.net/ufcw/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=219