Labor unions representing grocery chain workers in Southern California are expected to begin handbilling customers at hundreds of stores next week as momentum gathers for a potential job action.
About 46,000 workers at Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions and Stater Bros. stores, represented by seven locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), are working under terms of a 2016 contract that expired in March. This week, they denounced employer offers in a scheduled negotiating session and said they would begin taking their case directly to customers next week.
Several demonstrations have already occurred. The unions are also taking their case to social media, including a website featuring a gallery of video testimonials from longtime workers.
Other stores are collecting customer receipts as a means of demonstrating the financial stakes of a strike. One worker said actor Jamie Foxx contributed his this week at a Vons store in Westlake, Calif.
All seven unions voted in late June to authorize leaders to call a strike.
More contract negotiations are scheduled next week.
On a website, Kroger-owned Ralphs said this week’s talks produced “meaningful discussion” on healthcare and wages.
“We are continuing to bargain in good faith and are committed to an agreement that will help ensure that Ralphs remains a place where people choose to work and where our communities choose to shop,” the update said.
Ralphs also said it had offered top-rate increases that are higher than provided in the current contract; maintenance of healthcare coverage without benefit changes of increases to contributions; and a plan to stabilize and secure pension plans.
“We are all on the same team, and we want the same thing: a thriving company that can employ people with fair pay and great benefits,” Ralphs added.
Union leaders dismissed employer wage proposals as “a nickel a year” and promised to amplify picketing and handbilling efforts at all stores that could be affected between Aug. 20 and Aug. 28.
Southern California was the site of a four-month strike lockout in 2003 and 2004 that badly damaged both workers and their employers. The U.S. grocery industry had been relatively free of labor disputes since then, until a surprise 11-day walkout by Stop & Shop workers represented by five UFCW locals in New England earlier this year.
Union sources say that the Ahold Delhaize walkout–which cost the employer millions in lost sales and a big dent to profits—have encouraged labor to look anew at the potential power of a strike.
Employers in the meantime are under intense pressure to reign in costs to remain competitive amid a big increase in nonunion rivals and to invest in areas such as e-commerce, sources note.