SoCal grocery workers vote on new union contract

Brian Watt/KPCC

Angela Baker works at VONS in Camarillo.

More than 60,000 grocery workers in Southern California vote Friday and Saturday on a new union contract with the three major chains. Their union recommends they ratify the contract, and they expect it to be overwhelmingly approved.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the three chains — Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons — endorse the contract. Union leaders say it addresses concerns about funding the employees’ health plan; the chains agree the contract would allow them to remain competitive.

Workers had been on the job most of the year without a deal in place. A ratification vote on this package would keep workers from a strike.T he union says the deal keeps worker co-pays and premiums low, and secures enough money from the employers to keep the health care trust fund solvent.

Eight years ago, a four-month strike and lockout cost the chains $2 billion and opened the door for many independent grocers, some of whom remain in business today.

Jackie Gitmed, a cashier at a Ralphs in Encino, says the benefits were worth fighting for.

"Things have started to change a little bit and we’re just fighting to stay in the middle class. You know a lot of people don’t think that we have a good job that we’re just a bunch of losers that work in a grocery store. We’re able to raise our families, have health care. There were a lot of things we had that we couldn’t get anywhere else," Gitmed said.

Gitmed has worked 35 years for Ralphs, so a union compromise in the contract talks affects her wallet: In the second year of the contract, all employees — not just those hired since 2003 — will begin paying health insurance premiums.

Correction: A sentence about the ratification vote was clarified to make clear that a strike would be avoided if the contract is ratified.

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