Many of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ (UFCW) union members are facing the possibility of a repeat of the events in the Southern California supermarket strike of 2003, as contract negotiations with their employers continue not to produce results.

Their employers, Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons, have offered new contract terms that the UFCW and its members see as unsatisfactory. Workers in Southern California locations have been working without a contract since March.

Union members voted on June 25 to authorize the union to call a strike should upcoming negotiations fail.

All parties returned to the negotiation table this week in hopes of reaching a deal, with negotiations continuing today. Further negotiation meetings have been scheduled next week, on July 17, 18 and 19.

UFCW 1167 [Bloomington] Communications Director Pete Waasdorp says the grocery chains’ response to the negotiations is worrying.

“It is a shame that there is never enough movement from the employers until we take a strike vote,” Waasdorp said. “This tactic seems to be used by Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons during most contract negotiations in the past. Our members are tired of it.”

Shortly after the votes were tabulated, Teamsters Local 1932 [San Bernardino] announced their support for UFCW members. Teamsters communications coordinator Mario Vasquez called UFCW members’ fight for living wages, healthcare protections and adequate staffing at member stores a just cause.

“Working people at Albertsons, Ralphs, Vons and Pavilions help these corporate grocery stores thrive,” said Vasquez. “They, like all people in the Inland Empire, should be fairly compensated for all of their hard work.”

Teamsters Joint Council 42 in Los Angeles voted unanimously to sanction such a possible strike.

Ellen Anreder, a director at Bleiweiss Communications which is facilitating negotiations, wouldn’t indicate likelihood of a strike occurring but rather expressed hope for a fair deal.

“If negotiations proceed in a meaningful way, there will be no need for a strike and the members can ratify a fair and equitable contract.”

And Waasdorp says the union would rather not go on strike, if they can help it.

“We remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement. Our goal is always to negotiate a fair deal for our members. A strike is the option of last resort.”

Through a press release, Ralphs said it doesn’t want a strike either.

“As we have said all along, we are committed to continuing to invest in our associates – providing secure, stable jobs with competitive pay and benefits. We also need to keep our company strong. With a balanced approach this agreement can be a win for everyone – our associates, our communities and our company.”

Representatives for Albertsons, which also owns Vons, have not responded to requests for comment.

As negotiations continue, Anreder reminds members, “There is strength in unity! Members of the UFCW local unions in Southern California are backed by the support of UFCW members and other unions from around the region, the state and throughout the country. We stand together in pursuit of a fair and equitable contract.”

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