Thousands of grocery store workers in Southern California have voted to authorize a strike amid negotiations for the renewal of the union’s contract with the owners of Ralph’s and Albertson’s, as well as the latter’s subsidiaries Vons and Pavilions. Photo courtesy UFCW Local 770
March 28 (UPI) -- Thousands of grocery store workers in Southern California have voted to authorize a strike amid negotiations for the renewal of the union's contract with the owners of Ralph's and Albertson's, as well as the latter's subsidiaries Vons and Pavilions.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 said in an update to its members that the decision could lead to a walkout but warned workers not to do so until notified by the union.
"A strike is always a last resort, and we will continue to push for the companies to do the right thing and come to the table prepared to bargain in good faith. A representative from your union will notify workers if a decision is made to strike," the notice reads.
"If you walk out before that, you can be disciplined and/or fired by your employer."
The UFCW Local 770 said that workers had "overwhelmingly" voted for the strike authorization and that one would be called if Ralph's and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions "continue committing unfair labor practices."
The union accused the companies of "unlawful surveillance" of workers protesting and of refusing wage increases as required by the contract.
"You and your coworkers have shown incredible strength during negotiations, and your vote sends a strong message to these companies that you have earned and deserve better," the notice reads.
"Your customers and communities know how essential you are and it's time for your employers to recognize that too."
Those comments reflect the label given to "essential workers" during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which 10,284 of the UFCW Local 770's workers in Los Angeles tested positive for the virus.
About 48,000 people were eligible for the vote, which also included six other chapters of the UFCW union between Los Angeles and the U.S.-Mexico border. Union leaders said that negotiations are expected to continue Wednesday.
A spokesman for Ralph's, which is a subsidiary of Kroger, said in a statement to United Press International that the company's stores "will remain open" and that the strike authorization was "unrelated to Ralph's labor negotiations."
"Ralphs believes no one wins in a strike -- not our associates, not our company, not our communities and not the union," a statement from the company reads.
Robert Branton, vice president of operations, said in a statement that the company has proposed $141 million in new wages, increasing pay for all employees by nearly $2 per hour.
"Our three goals throughout negotiations are to reward and invest in our people, keep groceries affordable for our customers and maintain a sustainable business that creates jobs in the future," Branton said.
"Ralphs' proposal meets all three goals. The current UFCW proposal only meets one of those goals."
A spokesperson for Albertson's said in a statement to UPI that "the outcome of the strike authorization vote does not change anything related to this process."
"We remain committed to negotiating a contract that is fair to all parties, including our employees, and will continue to work to achieve that," the statement reads.