LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Workers at Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons/Pavilions throughout Southern California and as far north as Santa Maria ``overwhelmingly'' ratified a new contract with the grocery chains, averting a potentially costly and disruptive strike, union officials announced Thursday.
Officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, the Los Angeles-area union representing grocery workers, issued a statement saying the deal ``represents the most significant increases in wages and benefits in over 30 years.''
``This agreement is a first step towards security good, career jobs in the changing grocery industry,'' Kathy Finn, secretary-treasurer of UFCW 770, said in a statement. ``As important as the hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements to members is the way we got to this contract -- by standing together store by store and with our communities to demand recognition of the value we earn these corporations every day.''
Union members cast ballots on the contract proposal Monday and Tuesday. The tentative deal was announced Sunday. The previous contract between the union and the grocery companies expired in March.
Grocery workers in June voted to authorize a strike if a contract deal could not be reached -- raising fears of a repeat of the 2003-04 Southland grocery strike that dragged on for 141 days.
When the tentative deal was announced Sunday, Ralphs spokesman John Votava said, ``We are pleased to have worked with the union to secure increased wages, continued premium health care coverage, and pension. Our associates are the heart of our company and this agreement is a reflection of their contributions.''
According to the union, the three-year deal includes wage increases of $1.55 and $1.65 per hour depending on job classification, with pay retroactive to March. Union officials said the pact also includes more guaranteed work hours for veteran workers, improvements in health care coverage for employees and their families, full pension funding and the start of a movement to close ``the wage gap between job classifications.''
The employees work at 532 stores stretching from Central California to the Mexican border. Albertsons and Vons/Pavilions have 342 stores and 29,000 unionized employees in the region, while Ralphs has 190 stores and 18,000 employees.