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Grocery workers ratify contract with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons

Strike 

Members of Southern California’s grocery union voted to ratify a new contract with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons on Saturday night, bringing an end to labor negotiations that dragged on for more than eight months and brought tens of thousands of workers to the verge of a strike.

The new contract, said union leaders, will help ensure workers at Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons and Pavilions will stay on the job, and prevent a potentially devastating blow to the state’s already shaky economy.

The results came just days after officials from the region’s United Food and Commercial Workers union struck a tentative deal with the three big supermarket chains. Workers cast their ballots on Friday and Saturday, said officials.

“This deal protects our members’ health care and pension, and provides modest increases in wages,” Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles, said in a statement Saturday night.

"This is a win for grocery workers, our communities, and our local economy. Without the unity and determination of our members, this deal would not have been possible. And without the unwavering support of consumers and the community, it would have been a much tougher fight. To those supporters, thank you," Icaza said.

Kendra Doyel, a spokeswoman for Ralphs, said, "Ralphs is glad the contract has been ratified and we look forward to doing what our great people do best: serving our customers."

Representatives of the union and the three grocery chains reached the tentative deal after negotiating more than 24 hours straight. The talks had grown increasingly urgent after a deadline for a possible strike passed last weekend.

A sticking point dealt with healthcare funding: how much each side would have to pay to ensure that a healthcare trust fund covering workers would be economically viable for the long term.

Under the complicated deal, according to people familiar with the negotiations, grocery workers will pay $7 a week for individual coverage and $15 a week for a family starting next April. The grocers had said these premiums were necessary to help offset rising medical costs.

The vote tallies were not immediately disclosed. But officials of two of the seven UFCW locals said both the turnout and support of the deal were high.

The contract covers an estimated 62,000 checkers, baggers, meat cutters and other grocery workers from Santa Maria to the Mexican border. They include employees of Ralphs, which is owned by Kroger Co. of Cincinnati; Vons and Pavilions, owned by Safeway Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons, which is owned by SuperValu Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn.

The contract's terms will also apply to employees at other retailers, including Stater Bros. Markets and Kroger's Food 4 Less, under separate deals negotiated with the union.

Had there been a strike, an estimated 54,000 workers might have walked out at Ralphs, Vons/Pavilions and Albertsons, according to data provided by the three companies.

But neither side felt it could afford a repeat of strike and lockout that lasted 141 days in the 2003-04. That work stoppage left many union members with staggering debts and reportedly cost the employers an estimated $2 billion. It also gave competing grocery stores an opportunity to grab market share — all at a time when the state’s economy was stronger than it currently is.

Indeed, in the years since then, the three big grocers hemorrhaged market share. As of 2004, the three chains held nearly 60% of the Southern California grocery trade, according to research firm Strategic Resource Group in New York. Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons/Pavilions now hold about 23% of the Southern California market.

Smaller competitors, meanwhile, have flourished. Farmers markets, discount shops, high-end specialty stores, small independents and big warehouse clubs have eaten into their business. Target Corp. is attacking the grocery business with a vengeance, with 140 of its Southern California stores now carrying fresh groceries.

Grocery workers give notice to end contract extension

In the event of a walkout, the chains' competition would be the big winners

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: At the ballot box. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Grocery strike avoided; deal called 'win-win' for both sides

Strikeprep Officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers confirmed Monday that they had reached a three-year labor contract with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons, averting a grocery strike that would have idled more than 54,000 workers across Southern California.

Officials from the union and the three grocery chains reached the deal after spending more than 24 hours in continual negotiations.

The talks, which have dragged on for months, grew more urgent after a deadline for a possible grocery strike passed Sunday evening.

In a joint statement, Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons said, "We are pleased to have reached a tentative settlement agreement with the union that continues to preserve good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable healthcare -- while allowing us to be competitive in the marketplace."

The union negotiators agreed, saying in a statement Monday, "We have attained our most important goal, which was continuing to provide comprehensive healthcare to the members and their families."

Details of the tentative agreement were not made public, pending ratification of the contract, according to union officials and a statement from the grocery chains.

The contract must still be approved by union members, who are expected to vote on the deal this Friday and Saturday. The contract will be ratified if at least 50%, plus one, vote in favor of it, union officials said.

Union officials and the grocers see the contract a “win-win” for both sides, according to Greg Conger, president of UFCW Local 324 in Orange County. Yet sources from both sides agreed that the once-glacial pace of negotiations sped up after the UFCW last week gave 72-hours notice to cancel its labor-contract extension, a mandatory step before a walkout.

"We were dead serious,” Conger said. "They were, too. And then we all sat down and looked at each other and said, 'We better figure this out.'"

The contract covers checkers, baggers, meat-cutters and other grocery workers from Santa Maria to the Mexican border, including those employed by Ralphs, which is owned by Kroger Co. of Cincinnati; Vons and Pavilions, owned by Safeway Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons, which is owned by SuperValu Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn.

The contract also covers employees at other retailers, including Stater Bros. markets, which are negotiating separate deals with UFCW’s seven area locals.

Continue reading »

Grocery strike averted with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons

Photo: A man stacks placards as grocery workers assemble picket signs in Los Angeles in September. The placards will no longer be needed. Credit: David McNew / ReutersGrocery union officials and negotiators for Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons have reached a tentative deal on a labor contract, a move that averts a strike that would have had more than 54,000 workers across Southern California walking off the job.

The negotiations between United Food and Commercial Workers officials and the three grocery chains, which stretched throughout the night and well into the morning, had grown urgent after a deadline for a possible grocery strike passed Sunday evening.

The contract covers an estimated 62,000 checkers, baggers, meat cutters and other grocery workers across the region, including those employed by Ralphs, which is owned by Kroger Co. of Cincinnati; Vons and Pavilions, owned by Safeway Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons, which is owned by SuperValu Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn.

The contract also covers employees at other retailers, including Stater Bros. Markets, which are negotiating separate deals with UFCW’s seven area locals.

Details of the deal were not available as of 11:48 a.m. Monday.

The current negotiations hark back to 2003, the last time Southern California grocery workers and their employers faced a similar standoff over labor issues. The subsequent 141-day strike and lockout that began that fall left many union members with staggering debts. It reportedly cost the employers an estimated $2 billion and gave competitors an opportunity to step into the gap.

RELATED:

Ralphs says it will close stores if workers go on strike

Grocery workers give notice to end contract extension

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: A man stacks placards as grocery workers assemble picket signs in Los Angeles in September. The placards will no longer be needed. Credit: David McNew / Reuters

Ralphs says it will close stores if workers go on strike. Albertsons may follow. [Updated]

Ralphs
The labor fight between union officials and grocery employers spilled outside of the negotiation room  Friday as Ralphs announced that the company would “initially” close all 250 of its Southern California stores if workers go on strike.

How long these stores would remain closed is unclear.

About 18,000 employees are covered by the contract currently being negotiated between Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons and the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Ralphs has an estimated 22,000 employees in Southern California.

“During a strike, it is difficult to create a good shopping experience for our customers and a good working environment for our employees,” Ralphs spokeswoman Kendra Doyel said in a statement Friday. “We will evaluate the situation as it progresses.”

[Updated at 7:54 p.m.  Late Friday, a spokesperson for Albertsons confirmed that it too could shutter some of its stores in the event of a labor stoppage. Albertsons operates 215 stores in Southern California and has about 16,700 UFCW employees.

["We have contingency plans in place in the unfortunate event that there is a strike," the company said in a statement. "One of the lessons we learned during the 2003-04 labor dispute is that it doesn’t make good business sense to try to operate all our stores during a strike. At this point, we believe up to 100 stores could close for some or all of the strike. Any decision to reopen closed stores will be based on the business conditions at that end of a strike. We hope it does not come to this."

[A spokesman for Vons, which is owned by Safeway, said the company plans on keeping its stores open.]

The news came less than a day after UFCW officials gave a 72-hour notice to cancel their labor contract extension with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. Such a notice is a mandatory step before a walkout. Once the contract is no longer in effect, grocery workers can strike at any time.

The canceled contract, however, does not mean that workers will necessarily walk off the job Sunday evening.

Union officials said Friday that Ralph’s warning was a scare tactic.

“They’re playing chicken with their customers and their employees,” said Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles. “They should get serious at the bargaining table and concentrate on getting a deal completed, rather than threatening employees.”

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Photo: NAACP members participating in the NAACP's 102nd annual national convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center in July join a labor march and rally in front of a Ralphs grocery store. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Grocery workers give notice to cancel labor contract [Updated]

Protesters

In a bid to speed up negotiations that have dragged on for more than eight months, union officials representing supermarket workers in Southern California took one step closer Thursday night to going on strike.

Their move: Officials from the United Food and Commercial Workers gave a 72-hour notice to cancel their labor contract extension with the region’s three leading grocery chains -- a mandatory final step before a walkout. Once the contract is no longer in effect, grocery workers can strike at any time.

Although the union is obligated to give the companies 72 hours' notice, the action does not guarantee workers will walk off the job Sunday. 

Albertsons said in a statement: “We are disappointed that union leadership decided to take this step. We are still in active negotiations.... We don’t want a strike, and we hope to continue bargaining rather than continue to alarm our associates and our customers.”

Kendra Doyel, spokeswoman for Ralphs, said: “Even though the union leadership has cancelled the contract extension, our stores are open for business. Bargaining will continue over the next three days and we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached.”

[Updated Sept. 15, 9:15 p.m.: Vons said it and the other employers “intend to remain focused on the negotiation process and urge the unions to do so the same.”]

In a statement, Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles, said: “We returned to the bargaining table ready to compromise and make a deal that keeps our employers profitable but protects the jobs of our members. Instead, we got more of the same stonewalling from the supermarket corporations.…We don’t want to strike, but if they won’t negotiate, we have no choice.”

The labor negotiations, which have grown increasingly tense in recent weeks, stalled amid deep divisions over healthcare funding, worker scheduling and future staffing levels.

Officials from the United Food and Commercial Workers and negotiators for Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons have been meeting steadily since a recent strike-authorization vote by union members won strong support.

The labor contract approved in 2007 expired March 6. It had been extended day to day, until Thursday evening.

The canceled contract covered an estimated 62,000 checkers, baggers, meat cutters and other grocery workers across the region, including those employed by Ralphs, which is owned by Kroger Co. of Cincinnati; Vons and Pavilions, owned by Safeway Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Albertsons, which is owned by SuperValu Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn.

The contract also covered employees at other companies that are negotiating separate deals. So the number of workers in Southern California that might walk off the job if a strike does happen in the coming days is about 54,200, according to data provided by Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons.

Thursday’s news harks back to 2003, the last time Southern California grocery workers and their employers faced a standoff over labor issues. The 141-day strike and lockout that began that fall left many union members with staggering debts. It reportedly cost the employers an estimated $2 billion and gave competitors an opportunity to step into the gap.

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Photo: NAACP members participating in the NAACP's 102nd annual national convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center this summer join a labor march and a rally in front of a Ralphs grocery store in Los Angeles. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Kendra Doyel, spokeswoman for Ralphs, said, “Even though the union leadership has cancelled the contract extension, our stores are open for business. Bargaining will continue over the next three days and we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached.”

Officials from Vons could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

Labor talks between Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons and workers put on hold

Laborprotest 
The labor negotiations between Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons, and the seven United Food and Commercial Workers union area locals were temporarily put on hold Tuesday because the federal mediator responsible for overseeing the talks had to leave Southern California to deal with a family emergency.

The negotiations are expected to resume Thursday afternoon.

The labor negotiations, which have grown increasingly tense in recent weeks, are focused on hashing out deep divisions over healthcare benefits, worker scheduling and future staffing levels, according to sources familiar with the talks.

Officials from the UFCW and the three grocers have been meeting every day, and well into the night, for more than a week after a recent strike-authorization vote by union members that won strong support.

The labor contract that was approved in 2007 expired March 6. It has been extended day to day.

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Grocery union vote backs strike at Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons

Strike could be looming at Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons supermarkets

Tensions mount as Southern California grocery workers protest outside employers' offices

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Grocery workers protest outside the corporate headquarters of Albertsons in Fullerton in June. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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