The food workers’ union has signed a warning agreement to raise wages

The union, which represents 47,000 Southern California food workers, had previously signed a new three-year contract with Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions, preventing a strike they allowed last week.

The contract will be put to a vote next week by ordinary members of seven local United Food and Commercial Workers residents representing employees at 540 stores from San Diego to San Luis Obispo.

The union has delayed publishing details of the agreement until members ratify it. But he appreciated the outcome, which he said included higher wages and improved benefits for key workers who worked in difficult conditions during the two-year pandemic. Ninety-five percent of UFCW members voted to go on strike if supermarkets refuse to substantially raise their salaries.

“This is a great agreement that will help break the work in grocery stores and make tangible improvements in our lives,” said Rachel Fournier, Los Angeles Ralphs store cashier and negotiating committee member, in a statement issued by UFCW 770, which represents 18,000 workers in the area. Los Angeles.

Tyson Kem (left) and Andrea Garcia help make strike signs at UFCW Local 770 headquarters in Los Angeles on March 21st.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Another member of the negotiating committee, Manny Estrada, a pharmacy clerk at Vance in Grover Beach, called it a “big deal”. Employees of grocery stores served our customers in the most difficult moments of our lives. We kept stores open and contributed to the success of the companies. This is a well-deserved treaty, which we look forward to ratifying soon. “

A spokeswoman for Albertsons, which also owns Vons and Pavilions, confirmed that a preliminary agreement had been reached.

Robert Brenton, vice president of operations for Ralphs, said in a statement: “We are pleased that this agreement allows us to invest more money in the salaries of our associates and provides health care and retirement plans.”

Upper tier The pay raise will also apply to employees of Food 4 Less, which reached an earlier settlement by linking its contract with Ralphs ’. Both chains are owned by Kroger, one of the country’s largest food companies.

The deal was reached around 6pm on Monday after 30 hours of talks at the hotel. The negotiators reportedly dragged patio furniture into the negotiating area to take a nap. For the first time, not only union representatives but also working food clergy took part in the negotiation, a strategy that allowed members to share their first-hand experience during negotiations.

The UFCW negotiation was exacerbated by labor shortages, which allowed workers to change jobs in California and across the U.S. as they seek wage increases amid a surge in inflation.

Militancy among privates has also been sparked by outrage over their wages declining following the devastating 2003-2004 strike sparked by companies ’efforts to cut wages and pay. During the last negotiations in 2019, UFCW workers allowed a strike, but two months later a contract was signed that prevented the shutdown.

In interviews, many food workers pointed to Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen’s compensation of $ 22.4 million in 2020, the highest ever, and nearly doubling Kroger’s operating profit to $ 4.3 billion from 2019 to 2021. , even as companies struggled to raise wages for workers. .

Trade union activity is also growing across the country, partly caused by a pandemic: nurses and teachers are on strike over workplace conditions, and employees of companies such as Amazon and Starbucks are seeking to unite.

In the Los Angeles area, 7,709 grocery store workers in Local 770 alone became infected with COVID-19 within two years, according to data provided by union stores. Although white-collar workers could do their work from home, grocers had to work in stores or lose their jobs. Cashiers and clerks say they suffered abuse from some customers when they were reminded to wear masks or stand at a social distance from each other.

Bidding for a new contract began in January, but stopped in early March. Preparations for a strike soon began on both sides: unions mobilized their members, and Ralphs advertised temporary workers to cross the picket line.

Ralphs also sent an email to his non-union employees, asking which of them had truck driver’s rights pending that the carters ’union would refuse to cross the line to carry out the delivery.

35-year-old Raymond Smith works at Ralphs in Sunland, California.  He earns $ 18.25 an hour and can’t afford an apartment.

Raymond Smith, 35, works at Ralphs in Sunland, California. He earns $ 18.25 an hour and can’t afford an apartment, he says.

(Margo Roosevelt / Los Angeles Times)

Negotiations resumed a week ago, but no progress was made at first. On Saturday, the deal did not seem inevitable. UFCW 770 posted a statement on its website stating that the companies “behaved disrespectfully at the negotiating table and almost did not budge in their proposal.”

The union, which has accused the National Labor Council of unscrupulous labor practices, also said: “Both companies continue to play at the negotiating table by committing illegal acts that violate your legal rights as an employee.”

Ralph responded Sunday with a similar militant statement, saying: “Local UFCWs have raised $ 23 million in membership fees from Ralphs allies, but if their members decide to leave, the union will pay $ 15 an hour.”

“Any activity of the union in the coming days, other than negotiating a proposal that puts more money in the pockets of our allies, is nothing more than mere propaganda of the UFCW,” Brenton said in a statement.

The UFCW has proposed that the highest paid long-term workers – food clerks, including cashiers and shopkeepers – receive an hourly increase of $ 5 until the end of a new three-year contract. They currently earn $ 22.50 an hour in five to seven years. The companies offered $ 1.80.

A third of the workforce falls on the category of food workers.

The union also sought to close the gap between these high-paying employees and another third of food workers – general clerks, including deli and non-food stocks – who now earn a maximum of $ 17.02 an hour. The union has offered to raise $ 8 an hour before the third year of the contract, saying they do work similar to high-paying food clerks. The companies offered $ 2.

The lowest paid third of workers, loaders and assistant clerks, earn just above the minimum wage of $ 15 per hour, which the UFCW has proposed to increase.

In addition to a significant increase in wages, the union sought to raise the minimum working day for part-time workers. In recent years, supermarkets have shifted more than two-thirds of their workforce to part-time work, making them difficult to make ends meet.

Health and safety committees at the store level, which could address the pandemic, were also on the table.

“I’m 35 and I can’t afford my own apartment,” said Raymond Smith, who fulfills orders for products online and delivers them to customers ’cars at Ralphs in Sunland. He earns $ 18.25 an hour after four years and has to live with his sister and brother-in-law, he said.

“During the pandemic, we all saw that we were just figures on a page. We learned that companies don’t care. Honestly, we don’t ask for that much. We just want to be able to live and be happy and not break up families because our working life is very hard. ”

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