After 141 days, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) settled on an agreement with Albertsons, Ralphs and Safeway and ended the grocery strike.
The groups reached an agreement on healthcare, retirement plans and job security Thursday, Feb. 26. Union members voted on the three-year, 110-page contract on Sunday. The contract passed with 86 percent approval.
Dusty Wetton, a sophomore business economics major and three-year employee of Ralphs, said he voted in favor of the contract.
“I voted to accept the contract because I was tired of striking, and I didn’t think we could do any better,” Wetton said.
The contract agreed upon by the union and supermarkets proposed a “two-tier system” in which new hires under the three supermarket chains would be conditioned to a different benefit system than veteran workers. “New hires” refers to anyone who began working at the supermarkets since the strike began. Veteran workers would be given their old contract back, which included full dental and medical benefits, vision care and retirement pensions.
Under the new contract, workers would have to pay at least $5 per week for their healthcare, beginning in two years. Many of the contract’s specifics have not yet been released.
“The supermarket companies by far got the better end of the deal,” Wetton said. “Because of all the union’s shortcomings and failures, the outcome of the strike tilted toward the supermarket’s favor.”
Dave Simpson, President of Albertsons’ Southern California division, said the company is thrilled to welcome back its associates.
“We will be working very hard to win back customer loyalty and make life easier for these customers as they resume shopping in their neighborhood Albertsons store,” Simpson said.
According to the UFCW, the five-month strike was the longest strike in the history of the union as well as the supermarket industry. UFCW spokeswoman Ellen Anreder said the strike fulfilled its purpose in protecting affordable healthcare, pensions and job security.
“These three goals were accomplished in the new agreement, indicating the worker’s struggle and sacrifice were worthwhile,” Anreder said.
Wetton said he and many other UCSB students who work for these supermarket chains do not think the strike was worthwhile.
“UCSB students who work for these supermarket chains are less concerned with benefits and more concerned with paying the month’s rent,” Wetton said.
Because of the strike, Wetton said he lost five months’ pay, nearly $2,000. The supermarket companies have proposed to pay strikers who return to work 30 cents per hour for the time they would have worked during the strike.
“Thirty cents per hour compensation isn’t really that much. Thirty cents an hour nowhere compares to $11 an hour,” Wetton said.
Wetton said workers have to join the union in order to work at Albertsons, Ralphs and Safeway stores.
“I’m already covered with benefits. I don’t think I need to join the union, and I wouldn’t have if I were not forced to,” Wetton said. “I was not given the choice whether to strike or not. If I was given the choice, I wouldn’t have striked.”