LOS ANGELES — Southern California unions escalated pressure on the three major chains here last week as negotiations continued under the supervision of a federal mediator.
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents more than 300 local unions in the area, held a rally in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday where officials pledged to support the United Food and Commercial Workers Union if it decides to strike against Supervalu-owned Albertsons, Kroger-owned Ralphs or Safeway-owned Vons.
The UFCW's contracts, covering 62,000 workers, expired March 6 and have been extended on a day-to-day basis since March 31. The UFCW authorized a strike in voting in mid-April; the federal mediator joined the talks last month.
Although the mediator has ordered a news blackout for both sides, that order was broken last week as the union and the chains issued some details on the health care proposals on the table — the major sticking point in the talks.
The UFCW said the employers have proposed to shift a large percentage of health costs to workers — a proposal one union executive called “a ruse that ignores the fact these companies continue to post multi-billion-dollar profits annually.”
According to fliers distributed by the UFCW last week, the employers want to raise health care premium deductibles and the total out-of-pocket costs to workers, with deductibles rising to $2,000 per worker with a cap of $8,000 for out-of-pocket costs. “Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons want to maximize corporate profit at the expense of their employees and consumers,” the flier said.
It also said Albertsons had distributed instructions to employees on how to get public assistance and welfare in lieu of company health care.
A handout distributed at Ralphs stores last week said the employers' health care proposal asks employees to pay $9 a week for individual coverage or $23 a week for full family coverage, compared with a national average of $76 a week.
In a statement issued on behalf of the three chains, Kendra Doyel, group vice president of marketing for Ralphs, said, “We are still actively negotiating, and any talk of a strike is unnecessary. Our extension agreement is still in place, and we have additional meeting dates on the calendar.
“The only place where we can reach an agreement is at the bargaining table, and we believe our focus should be there, reaching a fair and reasonable contract.”