20,000 SoCal Grocery Store Workers May Soon Go on Strike

After weeks of negotiations for a new contract with Vons, Ralphs and other chains thousands of Southern California grocery store workers may soon hold a walkout

Thousands of Southern California grocery store workers may soon go on strike after weeks of unsuccessful negotiations with leading supermarket chains including Albertsons, Ralphs, Pavilions, and Vons.

The employees, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers, saw their contract expire on March 6. They have scheduled a strike-authorization vote for the week of March 21 to determine if they will hold a walkout, according to the union’s website.

The union, which represents roughly 60,000 supermarket workers in more than 500 stores from Central California to the Mexican border, is demanding higher wages, improved medical benefits, increased staffing, and improved safety and security, a union representative told Los Angeles.

Supermarket workers held protests across Southern California in Baldwin Hills, Downtown Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, and in West Hollywood last week prior to their union contract expiring.

The UFCW Local 770, which represents nearly 20,000 employees based in Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura, tweeted on Monday that although their contract has expired, all of the terms and conditions of that contract remain in place.

“When we began negotiations with Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions in January, we came prepared with comprehensive proposals and a clear path toward negotiating a contract that reflects your value and the sacrifices you have made,” the union said in a series of tweets to its members. “We are disheartened to inform you that Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions squandered the unique opportunity to propose a contract with better wages and benefits in a time of immense profit. They have failed.”

For many grocers, who were deemed essential employees during the ongoing COVID pandemic, it feels like a slap in the face to see that supermarkets have not yet come to an agreement with union leaders.

“When the pandemic hit, we showed up to make sure our communities were fed. We put our health and our families’ health at risk – and now the corporate CEOs who hid in their offices and profited off of our sacrifice refuse to share the success and make our stores safer,” Rachel Fournier, a 17-year Ralphs employee, said in a statement. “Now they are playing dirty and violating our rights. We have no choice but to stand up for ourselves and our families.”

Bargaining committees composed of front-line grocery store employees and union leaders presented the supermarket chains with proposals that would increase wages and improve store conditions to reflect the needs of workers amid the ongoing COVID pandemic, Los Angeles Daily News reports.

However, union representatives say grocery workers’ wage proposal amounts to a 60-cent-an-hour increase, which would ultimately amount to a pay cut due to inflation, according to Los Angeles Daily News.

Ralphs says it pays its workers an average of $18.90 an hour, which is above the retail standard, Los Angeles Daily News reports.

Ralphs told ABC7 in a statement that their stores will remain open and staffed even though the labor contract with the union has expired.

“It’s unfortunate that substantial progress toward reaching an agreement was not made during our 12 total days of bargaining with the union,” Robert Branton, vice president of operations at Ralphs, said. “While the company made several wage proposals, the union continues to propose very costly items which impacts our ability to meet customer needs and remain competitive.”

The company also said it was open to meeting with union leaders to reach an agreement that would provide more money for every associate, “keep groceries affordable for our customers” and “maintain a sustainable business for the future,” ABC7 reports.

“Negotiations are a process and we’re committed to reaching an agreement no matter how long it takes,” Branton told ABC7 in a statement. “We are hopeful the union will return to the bargaining table with renewed interest in reaching a balanced agreement.”

The union has not yet indicate whether a strike will occur, or how soon it could happen, but a walkout would greatly impact local supermarkets and customers across the county.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.