Tensions mount as Southern California grocery workers protest outside employers' offices
As tensions continue to rise between labor and Southern California’s three leading grocery chains, hundreds of workers rallied outside of the local headquarters of Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs on Tuesday to protest possible cuts to their healthcare benefits.
The contract between the employers and the United Food and Commercial Workers expired in March, and members have authorized a strike. Negotiations are being conducted under the supervision of a federal mediator.
The three grocery chains are owned by larger corporations. Ralphs is owned by Kroger Co. of Cincinnati; Vons and Pavilions by Safeway Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons by SuperValu Inc., of Eden Prairie, Minn.
Officials with area UFCW locals have said the chains want employees to pay more for premiums, deductibles and co-pays. Union leaders have said the latest contract proposal could result in some workers spending as much as 50% of their take-home for medical care. Many grocery union employees work far less than 40 hours a week.
And in a sign that the negotiations blame game is heating up, union officials on Tuesday accused the grocery stores of intentionally dragging their heels in the talks in order to gain potential political and economic advantages.
But as rank-and-file workers marched in front of Albertsons' regional headquarters in Fullerton, Vons offices in Arcadia and Ralphs in Compton, the grocery chains fingered area union leadership as being at fault for dragging out the negotiations process.
In a joint statement, the three companies said they presented their healthcare proposal to the union 42 days ago and have remained all along "committed to reaching an agreement with the union that is good for our employees and keeps our businesses competitive."
The employers added that they were “very disappointed with the response we finally received from the UFCW on Monday, which did nothing to address the rising cost of healthcare.”
Soon after, the UFCW’s Local 770 issued a statement that tossed the blame of stalling back at the grocers’ feet. “Managements’ proposal was a response to a union proposal made 47 days before that,” according to the local's statement.
The local added that “management only agreed to negotiate with grocery workers 12 days out of those 42 -- and most of those sessions were spent dealing with a pension issue” that had a June 30 deadline that needed to be met.
The talks are scheduled to continue next month.
-- P.J. Huffstutter
Photo: Grocery worker Marge Kohl uses the bullhorn during a labor rally in front of the Albertsons regional corporate headquarters in Fullerton over an ongoing contract dispute with Southern California’s big three grocery chains. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times