UFCW Local 135 is one of the biggest labor unions in San Diego County.
UFCW Local 135 is one of the biggest labor unions in San Diego County. Photo by Ken Stone

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor on Monday moved closer to endorsing a potential strike by grocery workers at Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons and Pavilions in San Diego County and the rest of Southern California.

But no strike will take place before at least one more set of contract talks with the companies set July 10-12 in Costa Mesa.

“We have been here before,” said the group’s leader, Rusty Hicks, referring to the 2003-2004 grocery strike. “We will get through these struggles by standing together.”

Hicks — recently elected chairman of the California Democratic Party — made no mention of when a strike might take place.

His comments came as United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 President John Grant emerged from a “strike sanction meeting” with a “food fight” banner behind him.

Grant’s meeting with his labor federation is equivalent to Mission Valley-based Local’s 135 getting the backing of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council in case of a strike, said Bruce “Todd” Walters, Local 135’s president.

Walters repeated his earlier hope that “we want to negotiate a contract, not a strike.”

Raising the threat of the first Southland grocery strike in nearly 16 years, grocery workers last week overwhelmingly authorized their union to call for a work stoppage if a contract agreement cannot be reached.

“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.

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.

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.

– City News Service

Updated at 5:50 p.m. July 1, 2019.