LOS ANGELES — The three largest Southern California supermarket chains signed an employee-lockout agreement last week “to restore balance to the negotiation process” in the event the United Food and Commercial Workers Union decides to strike one of them.
The agreement — encompassing Supervalu-owned Albertsons, Kroger-owned Ralphs and Safeway-owned Vons — includes a provision to lock out employees within 48 hours of a selective strike against any one of them and to provide financial assistance to any of the companies that are specifically targeted by the union during a strike.
When the union struck Vons in 2003, workers were locked out of Ralphs and Albertsons for the duration of the 141-day labor dispute.
“The decision to sign the agreement was made only after, and in response to, the [local] unions' strike threat,” Adena Tessler, a spokeswoman for the employers, said last week — a reference to a strike authorization vote by Albertsons employees late last month.
“While none of us wants a work stoppage, the unions' recent strike authorization and threats of future strike votes must be taken seriously,” she said.
“It is now clear the unions are engaged in a unified negotiating and strike strategy designed to put pressure on one company to agree to uncompetitive contract provisions and gain significant bargaining leverage against the other companies. The three companies have no choice but to respond with their own measures. The companies believe this agreement is a necessary defensive measure designed to restore balance to the negotiation process.”
Union spokesman Michael Shimpock told SN last week that the UFCW has not scheduled strike authorization votes for employees of Ralphs or Vons.
However, the union has been looking to the public for support, collecting an estimated 14,000 petition signatures from Albertsons customers over the last 10 weekends. That effort shifted last week to Ralphs, where union members began circulating petitions asking the markets to give union members “a fair share of [their] record profits.”
Shimpock said the petitions will be presented to the chains at a future date.
According to the union's website — RespectUFCW.com — “We're taking our campaign to the public [because] they stood strong with us during the strike-lockout in 2003-2004, and we know they'll be there once again in our fight to demand a fair contract.”
The website says the union plans to begin running a series of radio ads this week.
The contracts between seven UFCW locals and Al-bertsons, Ralphs and Vons expired March 5 and were extended twice, with the latest extension ending today and then continuing indefinitely on a day-to-day basis until a new agreement is reached or the two sides reach an impasse, after which the contract extension can be broken with 72 hours' notice.
Union members at Albertsons have already voted to authorize a strike if talks break down; no such votes have been scheduled for employees of Ralphs or Vons, Shimpock told SN last week.
The petition text reads: “Southern California's grocery workers have worked hard to bring record profits to the corporations who own the supermarkets, and basic respect and fairness demand that these workers be rewarded with a fair share.
“Last year, the three major Southern California supermarket chains earned average profits of nearly $3 billion, setting new records for profitability.
“In the last contract campaign, corporate management claimed that growing competition from non-union stores like Wal-Mart prevented them from offering fair wages. But in the three years since the last contract was signed, these [non-union] companies have actually lost market share.
“The result has been record success for your companies, and Southern California's grocery workers have played an integral part in this success.
“I hope that you will show these grocery workers the respect they deserve.”
The website also encourages union members to email a shorter version of the petition to the three employers.