In a weekend vote, 90 percent of the United Food and Commercial Workers union rejected a health care benefits proposal from Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons, automatically authorizing union officials to call a strike after 72 hours.
The 62,000 member union said the grocery chains’ offer would only significantly increase out-of-pocket costs for struggling employees’ families and bankrupt their health care benefits by year’s-end.
Employees of Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons have worked without a contract for nearly six months. Eight years ago, the groups reached a similar impasse and a subsequent strike lasted four months. Both sides hope to avoid a repeat of that lockout, which cost grocery chains an estimated $2 billion.
It’s tougher this time around in part because small independent supermarkets like Super King and Super A have lured customers away from the “Big 3.” There are also more grocery options available today in big chain stores like Target and Costco, which are only partially unionized.
What other models are out there and how likely is a strike? To prepare for a possible strike, Albertsons has already put up “help wanted” signs to ensure its stores stay open. Would you cross a picket line to shop at these stores? How, if at all, will it change your shopping decisions?
Rick Icaza, president of the grocery workers union, local 770 (represents the Los Angeles Area)
Chris Tilley, director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA and a professor in the Urban Planning Department