By City News Service
Raising the threat of the first Southland grocery strike in nearly 16 years, unionized grocery workers overwhelmingly authorized its union to call for a work stoppage unless a contract agreement can be reached, union officials announced.
“Southern California grocery workers voted in large numbers, and overwhelmingly rejected the unfair terms that have been proposed by Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons,” said John Grant, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.
The voting was conducted Monday and Tuesday, Grant said. Exact tallies of the vote were not immediately released.
Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions issued a statement saying, “The outcome of the strike authorization vote does not change anything related to this process. 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 issued a similar statement and said, for now, “it is business as usual in Ralphs stores.”
The strike authorization vote means union negotiators have the power to call for a strike, if deemed necessary, but it does not automatically mean a walkout will occur.
Grant said the union plans to meet Thursday with picket captains to discuss “various forms of economic protest” to oppose the failure of negotiations and to try to “get these companies back on the right path to provide a fair contract.” The job actions could include asking customers to boycott stores, Grant said.
Meetings are pending next week involving the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to discuss authorizations for the member unions to honor possible picket lines, Grant said.
The next bargaining sessions involving the union and the companies are scheduled for July 10, 11, and 12, Grant said.
The contract between the union and the companies expired in March. That pact was approved by workers in 2016 and included annual raises for most workers, along with increased pay for entry-level cashiers and concessions on holiday pay and retirement age, union officials said at the time.
On Wednesday, union officials said the most recent contract offer made by the grocery companies included wage increases of less than 1 percent and nearly 25 percent cuts in cashier wages.
The labor dispute raises fears of a repeat of the 2003-04 Southland grocery strike that dragged on for 141 days. That work stoppage was estimated by some analysts to have cost the supermarket chains as much as $2 billion, with locked-out workers losing $300 million in wages.
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel.