By Ken Stone
Don’t expect a strike against major grocery companies in the next 10 days. But if a walkout happens, it could see major labor support.
Leaders of labor unions representing roughly 800,000 workers in Los Angeles County recommended Monday that the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor officially sanction a potential strike at grocery stores across Southern California, including San Diego County.
The sanction, if approved by the federation’s executive board, would mean that workers represented by 300 labor unions would honor picket lines and refuse to shop at Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons stores.
“If workers are forced to go on strike, our members and their families will not cross the picket line,” said Rusty Hicks, president of the labor federation.
“We have been here before,” Hicks added, 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 union 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 on Monday repeated his earlier hope that “we want to negotiate a contract, not a strike.”
Last week, grocery workers across Southern California overwhelmingly authorized UFCW to call a strike if a contract agreement with the companies cannot be reached.
If a strike happens, it would be the first grocery walkout in the region in nearly 16 years.
“Southern California grocery workers voted in large numbers, and overwhelmingly rejected the unfair terms that have been proposed by Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons,” Grant, president of UFCW Local 770, said last week.
On Monday — in remarks aired via Facebook Live — Grant slammed the employers for the “wholesale erosion of respect within our community.”
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 next bargaining sessions involving the union and the companies are scheduled for July 10, 11, and 12, Grant said.
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% and nearly 25% 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 contributed to this report.
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