About 80,000 supermarket clerks and meat cutters overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal by six Southern California supermarket chains, union leaders announced Thursday night.
As a result, another round of bargaining will begin today. At the request of a federal mediator, workers Wednesday agreed to delay any strike until at least midnight Monday.
In two days of balloting, more than 90% of the members of 10 locals of United Food and Commercial Workers voted against a three-year contract offered by the Food Employers Council on behalf of 800 Ralphs, Vons, Lucky, Stater Bros., Albertson's and Alpha Beta markets.
Union leaders, who had urged members to reject the proposal, said a final vote total was not available because a small number of votes from some locals had not been counted by late Thursday night. But they said rejection was assured.
Rick Icaza, president of Los Angeles-based UFCW Local 770, the largest of the 10 locals, described his 20,000 members as "really upset" about the supermarkets' contract offer. He said many members he talked to were angry that union leaders had not immediately called a strike when negotiations temporarily broke down earlier in the week. Workers approved a strike authorization last week.
Despite the contract rejection, the prospects for a strike remained uncertain. The majority of the retail clerks work part time. Strike benefits from the UFCW international office would only be about $60 a week.
"I'm not going to pull my people out until I know I've exhausted every possibility of a settlement," Icaza said. "Every one of the issues is compromisable."
A union "fact sheet" distributed to workers at voting sites Wednesday and Thursday did not describe the markets' pay offer, calling it only "totally inadequate."
Food employer spokesman Dave Willauer said it was unethical of the union to withhold those details to encourage rejection of the contract. Union spokesman Bob Bleiweiss said the terms were described verbally at the meetings.
The contract provides three-year raises of between 9.8% and 10.7% to journeymen employees. The average U.S. collective bargaining agreement negotiated during the first half of 1990 contains an 11.4% increase over three years, according to the Labor Department.
Union leaders say "take-aways" in the contract, which the markets say are needed to make them more competitive, are far greater than the financial gains.