Will Grocery Workers Strike? Labor Contract Expires After 2 Years of Record Profits for Grocers

Through the last two years, we all bought groceries; if you were used to eating out on a regular basis, you probably did a lot less of that as restaurants closed and the virus surged. All this meant record profits for the grocery industry. With their contract expired, labor representatives are negotiating with management on both wages and benefits. 

The last two years were not ‘business as usual.’ Locally, at least two grocery workers at Ralphs died from COVID-19, and many at both Vons and Pavilions were ill. 

Union representatives posted on social media, “When we began negotiations with Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions in January, we came prepared with comprehensive proposals and a clear path toward negotiating a contract that reflects your value and the sacrifices you have made, and we are disheartened to inform you that Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions squandered the unique opportunity to propose a contract with better wages and benefits in a time of immense profit. They have failed.”

The current job climate has seen historic numbers of Americans quitting jobs, and the balance may have shifted enough for the union to press the advantage. That the company has also made record-breaking profits – sources estimate as high as $4 billion dollars – puts the spotlight on negotiations that will effect everyone. 

From October of 2003, Culver City’s Ralphs, Vons and Pavilions grocery clerks walked off the job, and the strike lasted 141 days. That labor action was estimated by some analysts to have cost the supermarket chains as much as $2 billion, with the workers losing $300 million in wages. It did not end in any tangible victory for the workers, and the addition of a bitterly despised ‘tier system’ for new hires offered even less in the way of pay and benefits than the returning senior staff. 

According to one local grocery store clerk, it was a wash. “We got nothing from that strike, absolutely nothing.” 

The longer term loss to the grocery stores as shoppers changed their habits towards patronizing Trader Joe’s, Sprouts and farmer’s markets can’t be calculated. 

During the last round of negotiations in 2019, grocery workers voted to authorize a strike but a deal was eventually reached after extended discussions, and a walkout was avoided. 

Negotiations between the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770 and chains including Albertsons, Gelson’s, Pavilions, Ralphs, Stater Bros., and Vons broke down over the weekend, but talks are expected to continue in hopes of averting a walkout. If there is still no new contract by Friday,March 11, 2022, leaders expect to schedule a strike authorization vote, according to union representatives.

How will the company respond to those who risked their lives at work, every day, for the last two years? 

Update – As of March 10, talks have stopped, and the union has authorized a vote. Bertha Rodríguez, the communications coordinator for United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770, says that labor will vote during the week of  March 21 -26, 2022, on a walkout. 

Photo courtesy KCRW

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