Grocery union, execs return to negotiating table – Daily News

on Jul11
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Contract talks resumed Wednesday between Southern California’s big grocers and the union representing store workers in an effort to avert a possible strike.

Representatives of Albertson, Vons, Ralphs and Pavilions are scheduled to meet for three days with leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers. The talks are being moderated by a federal mediator.

It is the first time both sides have met since union members overwhelmingly authorized its leadership to call a strike if necessary. Also, the union has held several rallies in the last week in an effort to garner public support, including a gathering in Los Angeles Tuesday.

The two sides began negotiations in early March, shortly after the three-year contract covering about 60,000 workers in Southern California expired.

The union has criticized the chains’ contract offers, claiming it would amount to a pay raise of only 1% and pay cuts of as much as 25% for cashiers, who would have their job classifications downgraded. Also, union leaders say the stores want to reduce the money they pay to health benefit trusts.

In a statement released Tuesday, July 9, John Votava, Ralphs’ director of corporate affairs, said the company wants to pay its workers competitive wages. He added that employees on average pay only $62 a month in insurance premiums to cover entire families and receive pension benefits, which 93% of people employed by American companies do not receive.

“With a balanced approach the agreement can be a win for everyone — our associates, our communities and our companies,” Mike Murphy, president of Ralphs, said in the statement.

George Howard, a labor lawyer and a partner at the San Diego office of law firm Jones Day, said that public demonstrations typically do not move the negotiation needle much, but a strike authorization vote might do that.

“Historically, strike votes are intended to bring leverage to the table for the union, to let the employers know they mean business,” Howard said.

How much leverage it brings is usually determined by the selling power of the stores’ competitors and the public support a strike would get, and Howard added that these are factors the grocery chains are probably assessing.

Since the last grocery strike in 2003-04, supermarkets have lost a significant piece of the grocery market share, falling to 40% from 65%, as competition in the field has grown, analyst Burt Flickinger said.

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