SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV)— Tens of thousands of grocery workers across Southern California, including here in San Diego County, were ready to hit the picket lines, potentially this week, over stalled contract agreements with Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions, and Ralph's, but Monday, that strike was avoided.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) representing the employees, reached a new 3-year tentative agreement with the grocery companies, with the help of a federal mediator.
“We went I think 36 hours straight to get this done early, early yesterday morning,” said Todd Walters, the president of UFCW Local 135, one of the seven locals involved. Walters said the agreement includes some changes to pay and benefits.
“We've made some healthcare improvements, nothing major, but for our members, it is major whether it's dental or vision, we improved things for them,” he said. “I feel confident that this is a good contract. Do both sides walk away with everything they want? No. That's why it's called negotiating.”
Some workers had initially called for a $5 per hour wage increase over three years, but Walters couldn't get into the specific details of the agreement reached.
“Obviously wages were a big issue to us, the minimum wage had collapsed upon a lot of our wage rates, we had a lot of members with 20 or 30 years making a couple dollars over minimum wage, so we tackled that,” he said.
Walters said grocery employees continued working during the pandemic through stress and verbal attacks, while others were able to shift to working from home.
“Everybody knows that grocery workers have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, they’ve been out front of this great resignation where people don’t want to work. They’re working 6 and 7 days a week,” he said. “Grocery members were stuck upfront during the pandemic. They were face mask police, they got verbally attacked. This contract, I hope, will reward them and keep this a respected job.”
Nothing is finalized until members have a chance to review the new 3-year agreement and vote on it.
Contract ratification voting will begin Monday the 11th and go through Wednesday the 13th.
“Once it's voted, there's going to be a cumulative total of all of Southern California, that's from Bakersfield to the Border; the majority of those votes will be counted to approve the contract,” said Walters.
A separate, tentative 3-year contract agreement was also reached earlier with Stater Bros. All day, walk-thru, voting to ratify that contract will happen this Thursday in San Marcos.