Deja Vu All Over Again in SoCal Labor Talks
There were some grocers that came out ahead in the 2003/2004 grocery workers lockout/strike. Unfortunately, neither Albertsons (now owned by Supervalu), Ralphs (Kroger) nor Vons (Safeway), the companies involved in the dispute with labor, were among them. In fact, estimates have put losses for those chains at $2 billion for the period.
There were also some grocery workers that did okay during that period, but they weren’t employees of the aforementioned chains.
So, what in the world is going on in Southern California?
The parties have been negotiating on a new contract for more than eight months. Even though the old contract expired in March, the chains and employees, represented by United Food and Commercial Workers union, have continued talking while operating under the old contract. Union members over that time have given it permission to call a strike, but haven’t acted on it. But in an apparent bid to light a fire under the chains, the union has given 72 hours notice that it will cancel the contract extension. This move is required before workers hit the picket lines.
The major bone of contention with the parties is health care and who pays for it. The chains are asking grocery workers to pay $9 a week for individual coverage and $23 a week for families. Workers hired before 2004 currently pay nothing for health care coverage, while those hired after the strike pay between $7 and $14 a week, according to the The Bakersfield Californian.
The union has argued that the increase, in light of low wages paid to grocery workers, is too much for employees to take on, while the chains maintain that they continue to pay most of the load and need some help in an environment where many strong non-union competitors pay lower wages and benefits.
Greg Conger, president of UFCW Local 324 in Orange County, said the chains have given workers little choice but to take the action they have. "The talks have been going at a glacial pace," he told the Los Angeles Times. "If the employers don’t snap out of it and give our members a proposal that we can live with, the only option we have left is a strike."
Kendra Doyel, spokesperson for Ralphs, told the Times, "Even though the union leadership has canceled the contract extension, our stores are open for business. Bargaining will continue over the next three days and we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached."
- Grocery workers give notice to end contract extension – Los Angeles Times
- Health benefits sticking point in grocery labor negotiations – The Bakersfield Californian
Discussion Question: Play mediator: What’s your answer to the impasse in labor negotiations in Southern California?