Grocery workers rally for customer support as contract rhetoric heats up – Daily News

on Jul4
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Union workers at Southern California’s major supermarkets are taking their contract dispute to the public, holding two Wednesday events on a busy shopping day ahead of the July Fourth holiday.

One gathering, in front of the Albertsons store in Redlands and organized by Local 1167, included remarks from Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands, and other elected officials. A union-led shopper intervention also was held at Ralphs in Garden Grove.

Several such rallies are in the works by the seven locals of United Food and Commercial Workers, as the union looks to break deadlocked contract talks that affect 60,000 workers.

The mood in Redlands was spirited Wednesday with about 100 marchers and free water stuffed into coolers from the shelves of Stater Bros. Hand-painted signs said “this customer supports grocery workers,” and “make our jobs great again.” Employees and their supporters chanted, “We’re fired up; can’t take it no more.”

Aguilar spoke briefly, saying he empathizes with the workers.

“It’s frustrating for me because of where we are, and the behavior of corporate America,” he told the crowd. “But you’re the ones with boots on the ground, and we’re following your lead.”

UFCW has been in negotiations for a new contract with Albertson, Ralphs, Vons and Pavilions since March, and has ramped up the pressure on the stores recently. Last week, UFCW members voted by a 96% margin to authorize its leaders to call a strike against the chains.

“We’ve been very, very clear from the beginning what we want but they have not been responsive at all,” said Local 1167 President Joe Duffle, on ramping up the pressure. “We’re not looking for a fight. But we have not been given the courtesy and respect we deserve.”

John Votava, Ralphs’ director of corporate affairs, said in an email the company was looking forward to returning to the bargaining table, with three days of talks scheduled to start next Wednesday. He said Ralphs wants to provide secure jobs with competitive pay and benefits.

“We also need to keep our company strong,” Votava wrote. “With a balanced approach, this agreement can be a win for everyone.”

On Tuesday, UFCW’s Local 770 held a rally at a Ralphs location in Santa Barbara. A similar event is scheduled for Tuesday in Los Angeles, at a Ralphs store in the Koreatown neighborhood on South Western Avenue.

On Wednesday, Local 324, which represents Orange County workers, had workers at tables in front of a Ralphs in Garden Grove and a Pavilions in Long Beach. There they tried to convince shoppers to boycott those stores for a two-hour period.

Greg Conger, president of Local 324, said a rally will be held in the area within the next two weeks. He said it was time for the union to go public with its contract dispute.

“I’m not sure how this will move the needle, but it’s certainly going to get noticed,” Conger said. “And, I guarantee that (the stores’) management will notice.”

UFCW said the stores are lowballing its workers by offering wage hikes of only 1% and by slashing its cashiers’ pay by downgrading the job classification. Also, the chains want to sharply decrease the money it pays to support the workers’ health care.

Shoppers on Wednesday were mostly sympathetic toward the union, while a few complained unions were unnecessary.

Anthony Gough, a former Redlands resident who retired recently to Texas, was back in town to visit his grandchildren.

“I understand what they’re fighting for,” he said. “A lot of jobs just don’t pay people what they deserve.”

Gough was a business systems analyst when he retired but previously was a unionized nurse.

In Garden Grove, some 45 union organizers pressed hard at the Ralphs on Euclid Street. As shoppers approached the store, two to three union reps would surround them, encouraging them to “come back after 5 p.m.” or go shop at other nearby supermarkets.

Dan Clark, a Garden Grove resident, said he supports the workers at his regular store — to a point. The day before a holiday is not a good day to try to prove a point, he said. “It’s inconvenient”.

Clark crossed union’s protest line saying he “didn’t like their attitude”.

“I didn’t like that they weren’t asking people not to shop, they were blocking the door, telling people not to go in,” he said.

About half of people approached in Garden Grove opted not to go inside. Sarah Witty, a former Winco cashier, was one of them. “My husband is union so I know what they’re going through,” she said.

Staff photographer Jeff Gritchen contributed to this report.

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