Holding signs that said, "L.A. isn't Wisconsin," representatives of 62,000 unionized grocery store workers said Wednesday that they were very close to going out on strike against Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons supermarkets.
At a news conference at the Los Angeles headquarters of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, unions representing truck drivers, firefighters, teachers, dockworkers, nurses and others pledged their support if the grocery workers do decide to strike. The labor federation said it had set aside $100,000 to help strikers pay for food during a work stoppage, and that members of other unions would step in to walk picket lines along with grocery workers if needed.
Rick Icaza, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, one of the largest Southern California locals, said that the two sides are currently so far apart that if there is no movement soon, a strike would be likely. The major sticking point, he said, involves health coverage for supermarket workers.
The union's contract expired in March, and members have already authorized a strike. Negotiations are being conducted under the supervision of a federal mediator, and are continuing throughout the week.
The three grocery chains are all owned by larger corporations. Ralphs is owned by Kroger Co. of Cincinnati, Vons and Pavilions by Safeway Inc., based in Pleasanton, Calif., and Albertsons by SuperValu Inc., of Eden Prairie, Minn.
In a statement, the three grocery companies said, “We are still actively negotiating, and any talk of a strike is unnecessary. … The only place where we can reach an agreement is at the bargaining table, and we believe our focus should be there, reaching a fair and reasonable contract.”
The grocery unions last went out on strike in 2003, a months-long action that permanently disrupted consumer patterns in Southern California, as customers shifted to stores that were not affected by the work stoppage.
-- Sharon Bernstein and P.J. Huffstutter
To read previous stories about the current labor talks between UFCW's seven regional locals and the three grocery chains:
Photo: Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which is a part of the AFL-CIO, said it has set aside $100,000 to support Southern California grocery workers if they go out on strike. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times