Southern California grocery workers appear pleased with tentative labor agreement – San Bernardino Sun

Southern California grocery workers with Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions say they’re pleased with a tentative labor agreement that would give them a $4.25-an-hour wage increase over three years, plus increased dental and vision coverage.

The Southland employees are among 47,000 workers represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), stretching from Central California to the Mexican border. They are voting on the labor agreement this week with final results expected Thursday. Their current contract expired March 6.

A group of nearly 100 workers gathered early Monday in the UFCW Local 324 Auditorium in Buena Park to begin voting.

“Members are doing in-person voting from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and they’ll be voting electronically Tuesday through Thursday,” union representative Jenna Thompson said.

Making a difference

Matt Lutton, a meat cutter at a Vons supermarket in Santa Ana, said he’s happy with the labor proposal. The union was initially seeking a $5-an-hour wage hike over three years. And up until recently, the supermarket chains were offering an hourly boost of just 60 cents a year. That would have amounted to $1.80-an-hour increase by the third year of the contract.

Lutton said the $4.25-an-hour wage hike will make a difference.

“Living in California is expensive,” the 33-year-old Costa Mesa resident said. “It’s hard to survive with gas and food prices going up. Everything’s been going up except my wages. If we hadn’t gotten this I was seriously considering moving out of state.”

The pay increase for food clerks, meat cutters, e-commerce clerks and pharmacy technicians will come in tiers. They’ll receive an hourly hike of $2 this year, $1 next year and $1.25 in 2024.

Deonna Knowles, a cashier at a Ralphs in Long Beach, is also happy with the labor proposal.

“We’re excited about it,” she said. “And they’re adding increased benefits for dental and vision care without raising the cost.”

Other contract upgrades

The tentative contract provides a 28-hour minimum weekly guarantee for available part-time workers, except clerk helpers and meat cutters. It also includes a secured pension and a health and safety committee for each store.

Ralphs said it can’t discuss contract details until the agreement has been ratified by its workers, but the company released a statement on April 4 when the tentative labor agreement was reached.

“We are pleased that this agreement allows us to put more money in our associates’ paychecks and secures healthcare and pension plans,” said Robert Branton, vice president of operations at Ralphs.

The employees voted last month to authorize a strike if needed.

Ralphs, a division of The Kroger Co., says its average hourly wage in Southern California is $19 an hour. When healthcare and pension benefits are added in that jumps to $25 an hour, the company said.

“Ralphs remains committed to continuing to provide associates with an industry-leading total compensation package, including competitive wages, premium health care benefits, and a pension for retirement,” the statement said.

Ralphs said its goal is to implement a pay hike for all employees, keep groceries affordable for shoppers and maintain a sustainable business model moving forward.

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