Southern California grocery workers voted Sunday to give their union the right to strike if negotiations for a new contract fail. Union officials said the measure passed by an overwhelming 95%.
Contract talks between the United Food and Commercial Workers [UFCW] union and Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons over a new agreement for 65,000 workers from Bakersfield to the Mexican border broke off late last week. Sunday's strike authorization vote was set by the union after the grocery chains failed to meet a Thursday deadline for a formal offer.
So what exactly happened? Why couldn't an agreement be reached? What's at stake for the grocery workers? What's at stake for the grocery workers? And what happens next? Follow me down below for more...
(Cross-posted at Calitics)
So why couldn't an agreement be reached? The OC Register explains:
At issue are health benefits, pensions and adding a lower payment scale for employees, who say they haven't had a raise since 2002. A representative for the grocery companies called the vote premature and said store officials remain hopeful that they will get back to the bargaining table this week.
Oh, so the vote is "premature"? And the stores are hopeful that they will "get back to the bargaining table this week"? Well, why couldn't they just work out a fair agreement from the bargaining table to start with? They could avoided all the risk of another strike with a fair agreement.
Take a look at this fact sheet from the UFCW. Profits for the stores have been better than ever, yet the corporate executives at Ralphs (Kroger), Vons (Safeway), and Albertsons (Supervalu) refuse to share any with the workers. The store executives always whine about Wal-Mart and Costco eating away at their market share, yet Wal-Mart and Costco COMBINED only control about 8% of the Southern California market. THAT'S ACTUALLY LESS MARKET SHARE THAN WAL-MART AND COSTCO HAD IN 2003, when the grocery companies were claiming that they need to cut workers' wages and benefits in order to remain competitive against Wal-Mart and Costco. Yet even though all the workers worked so hard after returning from the 2003-2004 strike to rehabilitate the supermarkets, the grocery companies not only refuse to give them any thanks, but they won't even give the workers the fair wages and benefits that they should have been given in 2003.
No wonder why workers were so ready yesterday to approve the strike. (From OC Register)
Union workers, still feeling the effects of a five-month strike ending in March 2004, said they are willing to take the risk of a walkout. Debbie Johnson, a mother of four who has worked at the Vons in Huntington Beach for 27 years, said she's ready to rely on her husband's paycheck for a while.
"I'm tired of playing the game that goes back and forth," Johnson said. "There are other jobs out there. I could go anywhere and not have to do all the (work) I do now." [...]
Eddie Davalos, a dairy department supervisor at an Albertsons in La Habra, said he decided to stay at the company for 15 years because of the good benefits. Under the proposed contract, the co-payments for his three kids' medical visits would go from $25 to $50, he said.
"I feel like it's a slap in the face," Davalos said.
Yep, it really is a slap in the face. These workers are struggling just to keep their heads above water. They're just trying to put some food on their family tables after helping us bring food to our family tables. However, the grocery company CEOs are enjoying record compensation as the companies are reaping in healthy profits. So why can't the workers just get some decent wages and benefits?
Something needs to be done.
So what can we do about this? What can we do to support the workers as they demand a fair contract? Well, we can start by signing the pledge to take your business elsewhere as the companies are forcing this strike to happen. And since we're not shopping at the stores that aren't respecting their workers, we might as well use the store finder to locate nearby grocery stores that are respecting their workers. We can also share these flyers with our friends, family, and neighbors, letting them know what's at stake for the workers.
Whether or not we ourselves are part of the UFCW, these workers are our friends. They are our brothers and sisters in solidarity. Let's show them some.