UFCW Local 135 President Todd Walters took part in informational picketing outside a Ralphs on Wednesday.
UFCW Local 135 President Todd Walters took part in informational picketing outside a Ralphs on Wednesday. Photo via Twitter

Unionized grocery workers began a 10-day leafletting drive Wednesday outside selected Ralphs stores in San Diego County to ask shoppers’ support if a strike is called.

But the company says its current proposal for a labor deal would be a boon to employees.

Ralphs Grocery Co. said negotiations resumed Thursday with officials of United Food and Commercial Workers unions throughout Southern California and the Central Coast.

“The company’s current proposals would invest more than $108 million in wages, healthcare and pension benefits over the three-year term of the contract,” said a company statement.

It said every extra nickel above the current wage offer equates to $3.6 million invested into Ralphs’ more than 17,000 hourly employees.

“We have put forth a fair offer that honors our associates’ hard work and supports Ralphs’ investment strategy focused on long-term viability and success,” said Mike Murphy, president of Ralphs.

“Our offer represents a balanced investment in our associates and our company’s future,” he said. “The company’s proposals put more money in associates’ pockets, maintains their affordable, best-in-class health care coverage and secures their pension benefit, which 93 percent of Fortune 500 companies and most nonunion retailers do not offer.”

Southern California grocery workers have been without a contract since March, and UFCW is calling for community support after “dozens of failed negotiation sessions.”

Brent E. Beltrán, a spokesman for Mission Valley-based UFCW Local 135, said Thursday that the union’s elected leaders are “willing to meet seven days a week, 24 hours a day if that’s what it takes to negotiate a fair contract for our members. We are in the contract business, not the strike business. We will strike if necessary but our ultimate goal is a fair contract for our members.”

In late June, Local 135 said the companies were delaying, demanding takeaways and would “slash wages for cashiers,” give “inappropriate wage increases that do not reflect the minimum wage, 20 cents for top rate clerks, less than 1% increase” and “put healthcare plan at risk of bankruptcy.”

On July 1, unions representing roughly 800,000 workers in Los Angeles County recommended 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 would mean that workers represented by 300 labor unions would honor picket lines and refuse to shop at Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons stores.

But San Diego’s local isn’t expecting a massive turnout at these events — two stores a day through Aug. 30. (Thursday’s actions were in Chula Vista and Oceanside.)

“We had close to 200 people at our rally last Friday,” he said. “We’re not expecting the same. For these customers mobilization actions, we anticipate anywhere from a dozen members and supporters to upwards of 75 or so” per store.

He said Wednesday in San Marcos about 20 people helped out with signs and handbills and 70 were at the Ralphs in downtown San Diego throughout the four hours they were present.

Why Ralphs and not Albertsons and other stores covered by UFCW contracts?

“We had to start somewhere,” Beltrán told Times of San Diego. “Instead of taking them all on at once while we are negotiating, the Southern California locals chose Ralphs to begin with. After these series of actions are complete, we’ll evaluate what we did, make any necessary changes, and then move on to the other companies.”

Ralphs officials said unionized food retail in California is at a crossroads.

“According to a recent report from Strategic Resource Group in March 2019, unionized stores in Los Angeles County, Orange County and the Inland Empire have lost 10 percent market share to nonunionized grocery retailers over the past six years, while that number has spiked to 15 percent in San Diego County,” the company said.

Ralphs targeted for future “Customer Mobilization Actions,” all 1 to 5 p.m., are:

Friday

Ralphs 51 – 1030 University Ave. in San Diego
Ralphs 105 – 10525 4S Commons Road in San Diego

Saturday

Ralphs 77 – 5680 Mission Center Rd. in San Diego
Ralphs 90 – 2417 E. Valley Pkwy. – Escondido

Sunday

Ralphs 159 – 3011 Alta View Drive in San Diego
Ralphs 168 – 125 E. El Camino Real in Encinitas

Monday

Ralphs 207 – 4315 Mission Blvd. – San Diego
Ralphs 175 – 7140 Avenida Encinas in Carlsbad

Tuesday

Ralphs 220 – 6670 Montezuma Road – San Diego
Ralphs 108 – 8657 Via La Jolla Drive in San Diego

Wednesday

Ralphs 75 – 780 Otay Lakes Road – Chula Vista
Ralphs 19 – 11875 Carmel Mountain Road in San Diego

Thursday, August 29

Ralphs 201 – 3345 Sports Arena Blvd. in San Diego
Ralphs 167 – 3345 Del Mar Heights Road in San Diego

Friday, August 30

Ralphs 57 – 2652 Jamacha Road in El Cajon
Ralphs 212 – 1704 Rosecrans St. in San Diego