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California grocers vote on strike authorization



LOS ANGELES — Thousands of grocers in southern and central California began voting Monday on whether to allow their union to strike against several major supermarket chains.

About 47,000 workers at hundreds of Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores are eligible to vote this week. The results are expected to be released on March 27.

The eventual strike would involve grocery clerks, meat cutters, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians represented by seven locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Negotiations with Kroger-owned Ralphs and Albertsons, owner of Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores, ended without a deal before the last three-year contracts expired on March 6.

The union said the following day that the companies’ wage proposal amounted to a 60-cent raise, which was “surprisingly low” and well below workers’ cost-of-living needs. The employees were asking for a raise of $5 an hour, among other proposals.

The union said that during the last day of negotiations it had underlined the essential role played by grocers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The union said Erlene Molina, a member of the bargaining committee and Ralphs employee, told company negotiators: ‘We saw how people acted as if the world was ending, but we couldn’t stay at the House. We knew we had an obligation to our community, so we showed up every day.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that a statement from Ralphs said the vote creates “unnecessary concern for our associates and our communities, at a time when we should come together in good faith to negotiate to find solutions and compromises.” At Ralphs, we remain focused on securing a deal with UFCW.

“We are committed to working collaboratively to ensure that we reach an agreement that is fair for our employees, good for our customers, and allows Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions to remain competitive in the Southern California market,” the statement said.

The union has yet to reach agreements with other supermarket chains, including Gelson’s, Stater Brothers and Super A.

Employees at Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons voted in 2019 to allow a strike, but the contracts were ultimately settled without a walkout.

A 2003-2004 strike and lockout put nearly 70,000 Southern California grocers on the picket line for more than four months.

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