Thousands of Southern California grocery workers employed by Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions began voting this week on whether to authorize a strike.
The employees, whose three-year contract expired March 6, are in labor negotiations with the supermarket chains and are seeking wage hikes, improved safety and security, increased staffing and stable and predictable scheduling.
An estimated 47,000 grocery workers, represented by seven United Food and Commercial Workers locals from Central California to the Mexican border, will be casting votes throughout the week with results expected Sunday, March 27.
A “yes” vote wouldn’t automatically result in a strike, although it would authorize the union to call one if contract negotiations stall.
“They need to be paid for the work they do and the risks they take,” Andrea Zinder, president of UFCW Local 324, said last month. “Our proposal is for a $5-an-hour increase over the three-year labor contract. These people are making far too little. They need a significant wage increase.”
Zinder said the workers are also dealing with a “tremendous staffing shortage.”
“Many employees are doing the work of three people,” she said. “And there are long lines at the registers.”
Ralphs, a division of The Kroger Co., addressed the concerns in a statement issued last month.
The company said 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.
The last 2003-2004 strike among Southern California grocery workers lasted 142 days, and analysts estimated it cost the indussupermarket chains an estimated $2 billion with $300 million in lost wages.