No need to fret about crossing picket lines. Grocery union officials and negotiators for Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons announced late morning Monday that the two sides have reached a tentative deal on a labor contract. The move effectively averts a strike which would have had tens of thousands of grocery workers across Southern California walking off the job.
The negotiations between United Commercial Food Workers union officials and the three grocery chains went throughout Sunday night and well into Monday morning, even after a deadline for a possible grocery strike had passed Sunday evening.
The contract covers an estimated 62,000 checkers, baggers, meat cutters and other grocery workers across the region, including those employed by Ralphs, which is owned by Kroger Co. of Cincinnati; Vons and Pavilions, owned by Safeway Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons, which is owned by SuperValu Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn.
The contract also covers employees at other retailers, including Stater Bros. Markets, which are negotiating separate deals with UCFW’s seven area locals. Details of the deal were still not available as of noon Monday, as grocery and union representatives hammered out final details.
The current negotiations hark back to 2003, the last time Southern California grocery workers and their employers faced a similar stand-off over labor issues. The subsequent 141-day strike and lockout that began that fall left many union members with staggering debts. It reportedly cost the employers an estimated $2 billion and gave competitors an opportunity to step into the gap.
Union employees have been without a contract since March, when the previous one expired. They voted to approve strike authorization in April, and green lit a 72-hour strike notice in August, pending negotiations which at that time were showing very little tin the way of progress, particularly on healthcare provisions.
“Thanks to the unity of our members, we were successful in bargaining an agreement that grocery workers can be proud of,” the union negotiators said in a statement. “We have attained our most important goal, which was continuing to provide comprehensive healthcare to the members and their families. The grocery workers of Southern California stood together, strong and united, throughout this long and difficult process. They refused to accept anything less than a contract that protects their wages, benefits and working conditions. We are proud of them … and also grateful to Scot Beckenbaugh, the mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and to all of our loyal customers who pledged their support for the workers.”
Indications from the union suggest membership is expected to vote to accept the deal. -Addl. sources: UCFW, LA Times, www.MarketWatch.com