A trip to the local grocery store today might render a better
selection of picket signs than bananas.
Workers from supermarkets in the area are among the 98% of Local
770’s 90,000-strong United Food & Commercial Workers International
Union members who voted to reject a management offer in last-ditch
talks that continued late Friday with a federal mediator involved.
United Food & Commercial Workers represents workers at Vons and
Pavilions, owned by Safeway Inc.; employees of Ralphs, owned by
Kroger Co.; and employees at Albertsons.
“It’s a countdown to a shutdown,” said Barbara Maynard,
spokeswoman for Local 770, adding that workers have not walked out in
Burbank is home to three Ralphs stores, along with one Pavilions,
three Vons and one Albertsons.
At issue are wages, pay scales and increased medical insurance
costs, which employees said will take large chunks out of their
Local Burbank store strike leaders referred calls to union
officials, but they seemed braced for a strike Friday.
All seven UFCW unions from Bishop to the Mexican border had
authorized their leaders to call a strike at 12:01 a.m., officials
said. But workers announced Friday that if there is a strike, only
one supermarket chain will be targeted to avoid inconveniencing
“Workers at the two other supermarket chains will urge their
employers to allow them to stay on the job and not to act on employer
threats to lock the workers out of the stores,” according to a press
release from the UFCW.
Kroger officials said an intense market that is forcing them to
cut costs dictates the latest proposals.
“In an industry in which the typical net profit margin is just two
pennies on the dollar, the ability to manage costs is crucial to the
long-term future of our business,” Ralphs President John Burgon
released in a company statement this week. “All three of us (Vons,
Ralphs and Albertsons) want to continue offering comprehensive
benefits to our existing employees and their families, but it must be
within the context of the current marketplace.”
Store officials also maintain their salaries are competitive,
adding that health-care costs have risen dramatically.
Still, union officials said that new proposals would be a setback
“It is an absolute mandate from the workers concerned that their
employers are going to shift $1 billion in [health-care] costs over
three years under the terms of their contract onto [the workers’]
backs,” Maynard said of the vote against management’s most recent
contract proposals. “It’s about a 50% cut.”