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Southern California grocery workers authorize strike

A potential strike would affect about 1,200 employees at 16 local stores in the Santa Clarita Valley

Posted: August 21, 2011 5:57 p.m.
Updated: August 21, 2011 5:57 p.m.
 

Southern California grocery workers voted to authorize a strike and reject a health care proposal by the supermarkets in a two-day vote that ended Saturday.

“We don’t want to strike,” said Rick Icaza, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.

“This vote shows our resolve to protect our jobs, families and customers, and our determination to stand up to the corporations for a fair contract,” Icaza said.

Both the union and the supermarkets say they want to avoid a strike.

“Asking for strike authorization is a common tactic in negotiations and does not necessarily mean a strike will be called,” said Fred Muir, a spokesman for Albertsons.

“We hope that a strike never happens,” Muir said.

Union grocery workers voted Friday and Saturday on whether to authorize a strike and reject or accept a health care proposal by the supermarkets. A two-thirds majority was required for each proposal, and 90 percent of voters voted to authorize the strike and reject the health care proposal, a union news release said.

Health care has been the main sticking point in contract negotiations between the union and the supermarkets.

The supermarkets haven’t increased the amount of money they pay into a health care trust fund in 10 years, said Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770. The trust fund, which funds employees’ health care, will go bankrupt in 16 months if the supermarkets don’t put more money into the fund, Shimpock said.

According to Muir, the supermarkets have continually increased the amount of money they put into the trust fund for the past 10 years. The health care proposal that was rejected in the union vote included an increased contribution into the trust fund by the supermarkets, Muir said.

A potential strike would affect about 1,200 employees at 16 Ralphs, Albertsons, and Vons stores in the Santa Clarita Valley. Local supermarkets have started posting help-wanted signs for temporary workers if the union decides to strike.

“We have started to advertise for temporary replacement workers,” Muir said. “We have a responsibility to continue serving our customers in the unfortunate event that union leadership does call a strike.”

The union would have to give the supermarkets 72 hours notice before they started a strike, Muir said.

“We have told the union leaders in no uncertain terms that a strike against any one company is a strike against all of us,” Muir said. “Union members will be locked out if a strike is called against any of the companies.”

“Our members overwhelmingly authorized a strike because they want a fair contract, not a walkout,” Icaza said.

“The supermarket corporations’ health care offer would significantly increase out-of-pocket costs for struggling families and bankrupt our health care benefits before the end of next year,” Icaza said.

Local customers at Pavilions in Valencia had mixed reactions to the news.

“I feel like I don’t have a choice, said Phong Quach, of Valencia. "I do feel for the employees. Every owner and business is trying to cut down. You really don’t have a choice."

"We can feel bad, but we still have to buy stuff womewhere, even if you feel bad for them," she said.

"I wouldn’t (cross the picket line)." Peggy Scott said. "I’d probably go to Walmart to support the people here (at Pavillions). I’ve been here 15 years and have always shopped here. I like all the girls; I know them by name. I know all the box boys."

"People will go to Walmart because we have all the super stores now. I think people will just go there (if there is a grocery strike)."

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