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Latest News - August 2011

August 29, 2011
Locals Brace for Possible Grocery Workers Strike
Source: Walnut Patch
By: Ariel Carmona Jr

Southland Supermarket shoppers including San Gabriel Valley patrons of Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs may soon find themselves looking for grocery store alternatives if negotiations between union officials and the owners of the three chains cannot reach an agreement on a new contract.

Both sides head back to the negotiating table today where they will be assisted by a federal mediator.

An overwhelming majority of the 62,000 grocery workers voted last week to green light a strike if the two sides can't come to terms, especially on the issue of health benefits which has become a major point of contention according to union officials.

Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union working at stores from all over Southern Caifornia including San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange Counties, have been working
without a contract since March 6. They are covered by a temporary extension of the terms of the current contract, but this extension can be terminated upon 72 hours' notice by either party.

"I think that if they do go on strike it's going to be devastating for the community given the current state of the economy," said 33-year-old West Covina resident Laura Jackson.

Jackson shops at the Walnut Albertsons on Amar Road, but said she would probably look for another nearby market to do her weekly shopping for her family in the event of a strike.

"There are some eldery folks who rely on this store operating and they don't have transportation to look elsewhere as readily," she said. "They are not as fortunate as most of us."

Walnut resident Patricia Kwon said if a strike happens, she would likely support the grocery workers.

"I know that they want to get as much for themselves and their families. They work really hard like everyone else so I think that the stores should give them what they ask for within reason," Kwon said.

"I would not cross the picket line if they did strike, if it were me I would want people to support me, so I guess I would have no choice but to go elsewhere."

Albertsons employee Alyssa Pineda said one of her chief concerns is the cost of health benefits.

"We do pay money right now for our health benifts, but they're trying to raise our costs, so I don't find that fair at all," she said  "They should keep the benefits where we are right now. The companies make enough money so I don't understand why they would knock us down more."

Abertsons spokesperson Fred Muir said the big issues are heathcare, wages and pension programs.

No tentative agreement on wages has been reached. Under the current contract offer, workers would pay approximately $36 per month for individual health insurance, or $92 a month for family

Muir said the parties came to a tentative agreement back in July which would cover the entire costs of pensions paid by the grocery chains. Still in contention is an agreement that would allow the three chains to remain competitive in the market, though management made offers last June with the union requesting further amendments.

"We can say we're glad that the union is back at the negotiating table," Muir said. "That's the only place you can reach a contract. Right now I think we've made a reasonable offer."

Most employees don't pay anything for their health care," Muir said

"Some grocery stores in Southern California are non-union and they their cost-structure is much lower," he said. "Under this proposal employees would be sharing in some of the costs, but the vast majority will still be paid by the grocery chains. We are just asking employees to share some of that cost."

UFCW Spokesperson Ellen Anreder said the current health care proposal would not sufficiently fund employees long term.

"The fund would still run out because their proposal does not contain enough contributions to adequately fund the health benefits," said Anreder who added the benefits would be exahusted after 18-20 months.

"From our perspective, our job is to raise the bar for the American middle class and not to enter into a race for the bottom," Anreder said. "There are very few middle class jobs left in this country where employees can work without having to rely on taxpayer benefits. Working at a grocery store is one of them. That's what we're trying to protect."

While Muir warned that a strike is not imminent, even though one has been authorized by the union, Anreder said the grocery employees would go forward if negotiations stall.

"Our number one priority is to negotiate a contract that is positive for both sides," said Anreder,  "A strike is a tool of last resort but the workers are ready to use it to protect their health care and their jobs."



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