Grocery Workers Get Support From Other Union Members
By Erik Anderson /KPBS / June 7, 2011
SAN DIEGO — Union leaders say the Vons, Ralph’s and Albertson’s stores are trying to gut the worker’s health care plans, shifting up to 80 percent of the cost to the workers. The grocery chains say they’re are making a fair offer that gives workers access to excellent coverage. The AFL CIO Labor Council’s 190,000 members pledged to honor a possible strike.
“If it’s in their contracts that they don’t have to cross a picket line to deliver a service perhaps, the teamsters for example often stop outside the picket line, so it’s a way of showing solidarity and it also engages the Central Labor Council and commits us to helping those striking workers,” said Lorena Gonzalez, executive director of the Labor Council.
Health care is the same issue that led to a five month strike in 2003 and 2004, and cost the stores billions.
“This isn’t about shared sacrifice. We’ve already sacrificed. This is about maintaining basic standards,” said Gonzalez.
The three supermarket chains issued a statement saying any talk of a strike is unnecessary because talks are still going on.
Labor council rallies for grocery workers
By Penni Crabtree / SignOnSanDiego / June 7, 2011
Labor leaders Tuesday sanctioned a threatened grocery workers strike as negotiations between Southern California supermarket chains and unions appear to be deteriorating.
The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, an umbrella group that covers 132 unions with 192,000 members, pledged to boycott and not cross picket lines at local Vons, Albertsons and Ralph’s stores should a strike be called by the United Food & Commercial Workers.
Many union workers have no-crossing clauses in their contracts. So a strike sanction by the Labor Council means other unions – such as teamsters that make produce deliveries to stores – would be obligated not to cross picket lines to make deliveries.
Mickey Kasparian, president of the UFCW Local 135, said there has been “no progress at the negotiating table.” The two sides remain stalled over health care benefits.
The health care benefits proposal by the stores seeks to shift 80 percent of the cost to union workers, and would have a “devastating” impact, according to Kasparian.
The grocery chains counter that their proposal is “reasonable.” For instance, grocery workers would pay $9 a week for individual medical coverage and $23 a week for full family coverage. The grocery chains would also contribute $365 million to the health care fund over the next three years; under the previous contract, the chains contributed $234 million.
The 62,000 grocery store workers covered by the union, 10,000 of them in San Diego County, approved a strike on April 21. By law, the unions must give the grocery chains 72 hours notice before pulling workers from the stores.
Kasparian said no notice has been given, but “the wheels are in motion.”
“We don’t want to strike,” said Kasparian. “But we are prepared to do so.”
Kendra Doyel, a spokeswoman for Ralph’s, said that any talk of a strike is “unnecessary.”
“We are still actively negotiating, and any talk of a strike is unnecessary,” said Doyel. “Our contract extension agreement is still in place and we have additional negotiating meeting dates on the calendar.
“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,” said Doyel.
Unions line up support for possible grocery strike
Channel FoX5 news
SAN DIEGO — The umbrella group representing unions across San Diego and Imperial counties announced its support Tuesday for grocery store workers considering a strike.
The head of the regional AFL-CIO lent its support to some 10,000 Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons employees, saying she would ask more than 190,000 union members to shop elsewhere, and the AFL-CIO would set up a fund to pay workers if they strike.
“We will not let affected workers go without support,” said Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. “My heart is heavy because the idea of a long strike can be devastating.”
Gonzalez even offered personal support.
“As a personal note, I am committing that my salary for next month, to the heart of the hardship fund for the United Food and Commercial Workers,” she said.
Local chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which voted to authorize a strike in April, are negotiating contracts with the stores. They have been working under the terms of a contract that was extended after it expired in March.
Mickey Kasparian, the head of the UFCW in San Diego, said union negotiators wanted the stores to pay the same share of their health care benefits as in the past, but their opponents want the employees to pay up to 80 percent of the costs.
“As Yogi Berra once said, ‘it’s deja-vu all over again,'” said Kasparian. “To think about what our employers are trying to do. Take 80-percent of costs and put them onto our members back…that’s not the 80-20 that I’m used to hearing. “
Kasparian said the issue was the same as the one that prompted a 141-day strike in 2003-04.
UFCW spokeswoman Ellen Anreder said negotiations were continuing. A federal mediator, she said, banned the two sides from publicly discussing the specifics of the talks.
A statement released by the three supermarket chains called any talk of a strike “unnecessary,” since negotiation were continuing.
“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 store statement said.
The chains also said their health care proposal was “reasonable.”
“Although the proposal makes some changes to the current health and welfare plan, employees would pay as little as $9 a week for coverage; receive coverage if they work just 16 hours per week, depending on their job; and have access to an excellent health care plan that allows them to receive comprehensive coverage for themselves and their families,” the statement said.
“Everybody wins, and nobody wins in a strike situation,” said former SDSU marketing professor Jai Ghorpade.
According to Ghorpade, customers will mostly be inconvenienced as many will not cross picket lines if a strike happens.
“We have substitutes. Trader Joe’s was very crowded back in 2003 and so was Smart and Final and other places like that,:” he said.
While it’s still unclear when a strike could happen, unions must notify employers at least 72 hours before they hit the picket line.