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Grocery workers ratify new contract in Southern California

Three-year pact with Kroger Co., Albertsons Cos. brings improved wages, benefits

Marking an end to a six-month impasse, more than 46,000 employees at over 500 Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions, and Albertsons stores in Southern California have ratified a new three-year contract.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 770, 324, 1167, 135, 8, 1428 and 1442 approved the new deal “overwhelmingly” in votes this week, UFCW 770 said Thursday, after a tentative agreement was reached on Sunday with The Kroger Co. (Ralphs) and Albertsons Cos. (Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons).

Before this past weekend, a strike appeared to be upcoming as union members made preparations for picketing and continued demonstrations to rally customer support. The seven UFCW locals in late June had given union leaders the green light to call a strike against the stores if negotiations for a new contract failed to progress.

The pact represents “the most significant increases in wages and benefits in over 30 years,” according to UFCW 770.

“This agreement is a first step towards securing 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.”

Ralphs Grocery store exterior.PNG
On its labor update website Thursday, Ralphs Grocery Co. called the new contract “a good agreement” that rewards top-rated associates, renews the previous pact’s minimum wage letter, upholds company contributions to health care and pension benefits, and maintains a 50-cent hourly premium on Sundays for all current clerk helpers hired prior to ratification. The Los Angeles-based grocer, with about 190 stores and 17,000 associates in the region, said the deal also brings enhancements to funeral leave and the creation of a joint training committee for a “workforce of the future.”

Over the three years of the agreement, food clerks and meat cutters will get a wage increase of $1.55, while GM clerks and pharmacy techs will receive wage hikes of $1.65. Courtesy clerks, GM clerks and food clerks also get respective guarantees of 10 cents, 20 cents and 40 cents above minimum wage if the law changes.

“We are pleased that we reached an agreement that provides for significant wage increases, maintains affordable health care, and continues investments in our employees' pension fund for their retirement.” Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos. said in a statement Thursday. “We want to thank our employees for supporting this agreement and for the contributions they make to our company and service they provide our customers every day.”

Also with the ratified contract, store employees will receive pay retroactive to March — when the previous agreement expired — plus more guaranteed work hours for veteran workers and an expansion of health benefits access for spouses and family. The union noted that the new pact begins to close the wage gap between job classifications, while the joint “future workforce” committee ensures that employees have a voice in the evolution of grocery jobs as the industry changes.

“We are proud to announce the ratification of a new three-year contract for the Southern California union grocery workers working at parent employers Kroger and Albertsons. It was passed by our members and by all Southern California locals after voting Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” UFCW 1167 said on its website Thursday. “The new contracts will achieve guaranteed wage increases above the state’s minimum wage for all workers, retro pay, continued access to affordable and quality health care, while maintaining healthy reserve funds and a pension that will be maintained and fully funded.

“The contract is the result of months of bargaining that culminated after several days and nights of back-to-back negotiating under the supervision of federal mediators,” the union added. “It was tough going, but we were able to achieve our goals and provide for our membership.”

The contract ratification in Southern California comes about four-and-a-half months after five UFCW locals settled an 11-day strike involving 31,000 workers at more than 240 Stop & Shop supermarkets in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Parent company Ahold Delhaize said the Stop & Shop strike, which ran from April 11 through April 21, resulted in lost U.S. sales of $224 million directly from the work stoppage and $121 million during the ensuing recovery period. The strike also led to a $100 million negative impact on underlying operating income. Terms of the new three-year contract weren’t disclosed, but the union locals said the agreement preserved health care and retirement benefits, provided wage increases and upheld time-and-a-half pay on Sundays.

“By strongly voting for a new contract that improves wages and benefits, thousands of hard-working members of the UFCW sent a powerful message this week about the power that comes from workers and customers standing together,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement Thursday on the contract approval in Southern California. “This contract not only rewards hard work, it provides affordable health care, strong pensions, and critical benefits that ensure our UFCW members are able to build the better life they’ve earned. For the millions of customers our members serve, this contract ensures that the high-quality service and food they depend on will continue for years to come.”

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