Union-represented workers at more than 500 Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons stores in Southern California voted to approve a new contract this week, ending the threat of a strike and winning what one union leader called “the most significant wage and benefit increase in over 30 years.”
Kroger-owned Ralphs and Albertsons-owned Albertsons and Vons negotiated with seven locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) for six months before reaching a tentative agreement early this week, just ahead of a union-imposed strike deadline. The new three-year deal provides retroactive pay increases to March, when their previous contract expired.
“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,” Marc Perrone, president of UFCW International, said in a statement. “This contract not only rewards hard work, it provides affordable healthcare, 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.”
The UFCW said the new deal provides all workers access to affordable healthcare; maintains and fully funds pensions; and provides guaranteed wage increases that ensure worker pay surpasses state minimum wage requirements.
John Grant, president of UFCW Local 770, said the deal also increased minimum hours; increased vacation and personal time; and created a “Future of Work” committee to guarantee worker voices are part of the future of grocery jobs.
While precise details of the new contract weren’t immediately available, Ralphs said its latest wage offer—presented Aug. 25—represented an investment of $112 million in new wages over the three-year period. Employers maintained that pressure from competitors, including nonunion operators, had challenged them to manage expenses while still delivering service.
“Our objective in every negotiation is to find a fair and reasonable balance between competitive costs and compensation packages that provide solid wages; good-quality, affordable healthcare; and retirement benefits for our associates,” Gary Millerchip, Kroger’s chief financial officer, said in a conference call this week. “We continue to strive to make our overall benefit package relevant to today’s associates."
“Our financial results continue to be pressured by inefficient healthcare and pension costs, which some of our competitors do not face,” he added. “We continue to communicate with our local unions and the international unions, which represent many of our associates, on the importance of growing our business in a profitable way, which will help us create more jobs and career opportunities and enhance job security for our associates.”
In addition to the deal in Southern California, Kroger workers in recent months have ratified new contracts in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Louisville, Ky.; and Nashville. Negotiations are continuing with the UFCW for contracts covering associates in Las Vegas; Memphis, Tenn.; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle, Millerchip said.