Thousands of central and Southern California grocery workers have voted to authorize their union to call a strike against several major supermarket chains as contract negotiations are set to resume this week.
About 47,000 workers at hundreds of Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions voted starting last week and the results were announced Sunday.
The possible walkout would involve grocery clerks, meat cutters, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians represented by seven locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
No strike was immediately set. The union said talks would resume Wednesday and if bargaining breaks down again, it would decide what steps to take next.
Negotiations with Ralphs, owned by Kroger, and Albertsons, owner of Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores, ended without agreement before the latest three-year contracts expired March 6.
The union said the next day that the companies’ wage proposal amounted to a 60-cent increase that was “shockingly low” and well below workers’ cost-of-living needs. Employees were asking for a $5-an-hour raise, among other proposals.
“Both companies have refused to agree to expand safety committees in the stores, and have yet to negotiate meaningful health and welfare benefits,” a United Food and Commercial Workers statement said.
The union said that during the final day of negotiations it emphasized the essential role grocery workers played during the coronavirus pandemic.
The union said bargaining committee member Erlene Molina, a Ralphs employee, told company negotiators: “We saw how people were acting like the world was ending, but we could not stay home. We knew that we had an obligation to our community, so we showed up every day.”
“The outcome of the strike authorization vote does not change anything related to this process,” Albertsons Companies said in a statement Sunday. “We remain committed to negotiating a contract that is fair to all parties, including our employees, and will continue to work to achieve that.”
Ralphs didn’t immediately respond Sunday to a request for comment. The Los Angeles Times reported that a Ralphs statement last Monday said the vote creates “unnecessary concern for our associates and communities, at a time when we should be coming together in good faith bargaining to find solutions and compromise. At Ralphs, we remain focused on settling a deal with the UFCW.”
The union has not yet reached agreements with other supermarket chains, including Gelson’s, Stater Bros. Markets and Super A.
Employees of Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons in 2019 voted to authorize a strike, but contracts ultimately were reached without a walkout.
A 2003-04 strike and lockout put nearly 70,000 Southern California grocery workers on picket lines for more than four months.