Grocery workers rally for higher pay, more staffing, better COVID-19 safeguards – Daily News

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Grocery workers and supporters rallied in front of a Ralphs supermarket in Tustin and an Albertsons in Los Angeles on Monday, Feb. 28, claiming the employees are understaffed, underpaid and working with inadequate COVID-19 safeguards.

The gatherings were the first of 11 Southern California rallies to be held this week on behalf of 60,000 grocery workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union. They work at Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions, Stater Bros. and Gelson’s supermarkets, ranging from Central California to the Mexican border.

Their contract is set to expire Sunday, March 6.

Workers are seeking higher wages, better safety and security measures, increased staffing and stable scheduling.

Andrea Zinder, president of UFCW Local 324, said workers received COVID-19 hazard pay during the height of the pandemic, although it didn’t last long.

“They need to be paid for the work they do and the risks they take,” she said. “Our proposal is for a $5-an-hour increase over the three-year labor contract. These people are making far too little. They need a significant wage increase.”

Ralphs, a division of The Kroger Co., addressed the concerns in a statement issued early Monday.

The company said its average hourly wage in Southern California is $19 an hour, and when healthcare and pension benefits are added in it jumps to $25 an hour.

“Ralphs remains committed to continuing to provide associates with an industry-leading total compensation package, including competitive wages, premium health care benefits, and a pension for retirement,” the statement said.

The rallies came the same day Target Corp. announced it was investing $300 million to boost wages. New hires could see pay as high as $24 hourly.

Ralphs said the grocers and UFCW made “positive progress” during last week’s meetings, and additional labor negotiations are scheduled through next weekend.

Representatives with Albertsons Companies, which includes the Albertsons, Vons and Pavillions supermarket chains, could not be reached for comment. Stater Bros. and Gelson’s declined to address the concerns.

COVID-19 concerns, staffing shortages

Zinder said many of the grocers haven’t followed strict COVID-19 safety guidelines, including mask-wearing, social distancing among customers and routine cleaning of hard surfaces to contain the spread of the virus.

“They also have a tremendous staffing shortage,” she said. “Many employees are doing the work of three people, and there are long lines at the registers.”

Pio Figueroa, who works at a Ralphs supermarket in Laguna Beach, said that store is failing to enforce social distancing among customers during the pandemic, while employees aren’t earning a living wage.

“This used to be a career job for grocery store workers 30 or 40 years ago, but now many of my coworkers have to work two or three jobs to survive,” the 25-year-old Laguna Beach resident said.

Zidner said employees are also dealing with erratic work schedules that often change week to week with little or no advance warning.

“They aren’t getting enough notice of schedule changes,” she said. “They need to know in advance because they’re dealing with things like child care, elder care, school schedules and making doctor’s appointments.”

Conflicting studies

Authors of “Hungry at the Table,” a report on Kroger’s treatment of workers, the company’s workplace conditions and the impact on workers’ lives, were among the 200 in attendance at Monday’s rally at the Ralphs at 13321 Jamboree Road in Tustin.

The report from Economic Roundtable surveyed 36,795 Kroger employees, including those working for the company’s Ralphs and Food 4 Less chains in Southern California, Colorado and the Puget Sound region of Washington.

More than two-fifths of those surveyed in the Roundtable report said they had to borrow money from family or friends over the past year to pay for basic expenses.

But another Kroger ndp | analytics report, contradicts the Roundtable study, claiming it’s misleading and was underwritten by various locals of UFCW.

Additional rallies were held Monday at a Ralphs, at 3345 Sports Arena Blvd. in San Diego and an Albertsons at 3901 Crenshaw Blvd. in Los Angeles.

More gatherings will be held throughout the week at various Ralphs and Vons locations in San Pedro, West Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, La Crescenta, Fontana and Grover Beach in San Luis Obispo County.

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