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Grocery store workers prepare to strike amid ongoing contract negotiations

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Posted at 4:51 PM, Mar 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-30 19:51:50-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — "I felt like I needed to come here and support them, and support these employees that hopefully won't go on strike," shares one retired union member.

Grocery store workers in San Diego gathered in solidarity to make picket signs, as they prepare to strike amid ongoing contract negotiations. Earlier this week, thousands of grocery workers across Southern California voted to authorize their union to call a strike.

RELATED: Negotiations set to resume between SoCal grocers, workers

The union is made up of seven UFCW union locals between Central California and the Mexico border, roughly 47,000 workers at more than 500 stores, including Ralphs, Vons, and Albertsons.

On Wednesday at the UFCW Local 135 headquarters, the members who showed up, hope negotiations do not break down and lead to a strike. They say the picket signs are just in anticipation of negotiations falling apart.

UFCW Local 135, represents employees from 93 different Vons, Ralphs, and Albertsons stores. The members include roughly 13,000 employees and 7,000 retirees.

Sergio Camberos is one of those employees.

He has worked at the Ralphs in Chula Vista for 35 years. He says that during the pandemic, he got sick with covid for a month, was in a coma for two weeks, and was out of work for three months.

"It was difficult for me because I don't have any money, living paycheck to paycheck," shares Camberos.

He says the biggest thing, he and 47,000 others are asking for is a $5 per hour wage increase, over three years.

"I make a little more, make it better for my family," he explains. "Pay for the gas, bills, house payments."

"I don't understand why the companies can't just give them what they want," says Andrea Oldakowski.

Oldakowski retired from Vons in 2020, after working there for 40 years. She was a picket captain in the 2003 strike.

She hopes that these signs won't have to be used, "They were the essential workers when covid hit two and a half years ago, and they stayed on the job, did everything they were supposed to do, and you can't give them five dollars for three years?"

She furthers, "And keep our pension and healthcare intact? I mean I don't think that's asking for too much at all."

A Ralphs spokesperson released this statement to ABC10 News on Wednesday, emphasizing that their proposal would invest $141 million dollars in new wages over three years. The company says in the statement, that a full-time cashier could see a 9% pay raise. Ralphs says that the union's proposal wants a more than 20% increase in pay, which the company says will create higher grocery bills for customers.

The full statement is as reads below:

Ralphs stores will remain open and we will not be derailed from resuming planned negotiations on March 30 to promptly deliver wage increases for our associates.

It is important to note that our three goals throughout negotiations are to reward and invest in our people, keep groceries affordable for our customers and maintain a sustainable business that creates jobs in the future. Ralphs’ proposal meets all three goals. The current UFCW proposal of $5 an hour, which is a 22% increase, only meets one of those goals. We encourage the UFCW to join us in meaningful and balanced negotiations to promptly deliver wage increases to our associates

Operating a Sustainable Business while Investing in Leading Wages and Benefits

Ralphs’ latest proposal would include:

  • An investment of more than $141 million in new wages over the next three years
  • All associates would receive wage increases through the life of the contract and top-rate associates would receive a nearly $2 hourly increase to their current industry-leading pay.
  • The current proposal would not require any increases in health care costs for associates.

For example, Ralphs is offering a full-time cashier with five years of experience a pay raise of nearly 9% over the life of the contract. The UFCW proposal seeks a more than 20% increase. This is a non-starter – and would lead to $400 more in grocery bills annually for the typical Southern California family. Not only would the union’s wage proposal raise grocery prices, but it could also push many customers to non-union competitors who do not respect collective bargaining and ultimately reduced market share and unionized employment at Ralphs.  

A spokesperson with Pavilions released this statement to ABC 10 News:

We remain committed to working collaboratively to reach an agreement that is fair to our hard-working employees and allows Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions to remain competitive in the Southern California market.

However, those who work around the clock to keep our food fresh, hope that customers and colleagues understand where they are coming from.

"In the grand scheme of profits that these large companies make, it's not that much of an investment. But to a family, five dollars an hour it means maybe I can put gas in my car this month," shares union member Michael McGee. "It helps take care of the kids, the cost of living has gone up everywhere. It's something that not only they deserve, but it's going to make a huge impact on their lives."

Negotiations could come to an agreement at any point within the next six days.

To learn more about ongoing negotiations for Ralphs employees visit www.RalphsCBA.com.