Friday, March 23 , 2018, 8:12 am | Fair 46º


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Southern California Grocery Workers Vote on Proposed Labor Contract

Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons stores have reached a tentative agreement with workers that includes pay increases

Members and supporters of the UFCW grocery store workers union rally at the Santa Barbara downtown Ralphs supermarket in July to ask for a fair labor contract.
Members and supporters of the UFCW grocery store workers union rally at the Santa Barbara downtown Ralphs supermarket in July to ask for a fair labor contract. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk file photo)

Thousands of Southern California grocery workers voted Monday on a proposed labor agreement with the owners of three supermarket chains that offers pay increases and preserves health plans.

After months of round-the-clock negotiations, Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons have reached a tentative contract with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.

Results of the vote will be available Tuesday. 

“The agreement includes pay increases, a stable pension for our associate’s future and affordable health care,” Ralphs spokeswoman Kendra Doyel said. 

“We are pleased to have reached a tentative agreement with the unions that rewards our associates and allows all of us to continue to provide excellent shopping experiences for customers.”

Roughly 50,000 grocery workers from central and southern California are represented in the previous contract that expired in March.

“I think the members are going to be pleased with the results,” UFCW 770 President Rick Icaza said. “We have been bargaining for five months with an expired contract and had a series of support. There has been community activists, workers, groups and politicians that joined together to support our union.” 

In June, the workers voted the authorize a strike if a better deal wasn’t reached by Aug. 8.

“I don’t think workers truly wanted a strike, but they are prepared,” Icaza said. “I’m sure they will be satisfied with the agreement.” 

The negotiations arose when management tried to cut back labor costs by reducing wages, healthcare and retirement benefits. The grocery stores are seeking to cut costs ahead of the California minimum wage rising to $15 an hour by 2022, with starting wages at $10.20 an hour, according to the union.

“We have issues on wages, pension, health and welfare and we had a number of takeaways in which we were able to successfully come up with solutions,” Icaza said.

Officials from the union announced the tentative drafted contract on Thursday.

“As we have consistently said, contracts get negotiated at the bargaining table and we are glad to have been able to reach a fair agreement through that process,” Carlos Illingworth, a spokesman for Albertsons said.

“We will continue to provide retail employees with pay that significantly exceeds the minimum wage, along with comprehensive health, welfare and pension benefits.” 

Illingworth said the three-year agreement acknowledges the contributions of employees and allows the company to remain competitive.

Workers are scheduled to cast ballots at various locations from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Proposed details were not made public, pending a vote by union members. The results won’t be available until Tuesday, according to Icaza.

The union states that separate negotiations with pharmacy workers are still in progress.

In 2003-2004, UFCW organized a massive 141-day strike that impacted the three corporations. More than 70,000 union workers throughout Southern California stood outside of stores to protest the chains. The supermarkets lost an estimated $1.5 billion in profits.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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