Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons workers voted to ratify a new labor contract this past Sunday, narrowly avoiding a possibly detrimental strike.
Labor unions and representatives from the supermarkets’ parent companies reached a tentative agreement late Sunday night that increases wages and protects health care benefits for the market employees. The three-year contract successfully prevented an approaching strike, which would have left thousands of employees picketing in front of their respective grocery markets.
Mike Shimpock, a spokesperson for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, said the new contract meets the primary grievances of the workers.
“It increases the amount of money that the markets are contributing to the health care trust fund, which keeps it solvent,” Shimpock said. “It has a moderate wage increase — a bonus the first year, an actual raise the second, and then a bonus the third — and it preserves the status quo of the pension.”
Rising health care costs were a main concern of the employees, who believe their own contributions to medical and pension funds were disproportionate to the amounts provided by employers.
According to Shimpock, the new contract marks the first time in a decade that the grocery store chains increased their contributions to the health care trust fund.
“They’re still paying less than they were 10 years ago, but this is the first time in 10 years that they’ve increased that contribution,” Shimpock said. “Where [the trust fund] was before, the fund itself would have gone bankrupt some time in the middle of next year and it would have eliminated health care for everybody.”
Ralphs representative Kendra Doyel said the agreement provides a fair deal for both employees and employers.
“They had been negotiating for quite some time, getting closer and closer,” Doyel said. “Really and truly, they came together as they should and reached an agreement. This contract gives them a stable pension fund; it gives them high-quality, very affordable health care and it gives them a wage increase.”
The last time grocery workers voted to strike was in 2003 and 2004, resulting in a decrease in market shares for the corporations involved.
According to Doyel, the labor representatives involved in this year’s negotiations were focused on the task at hand to prevent the detrimental effects of any strike.
“I think [the past strike] was part of it — it was certainly something that was on people’s mind … certainly it shows how damaging [a strike] is for all sides,” Doyel said. “Honestly, no one wins in a strike; not customers, not employees, certainly not unions and most definitely not employers.”
Shimpock said the new contract reflects the success that these markets have had over the past few years.
“Everybody would like to see something a little better but I think the workers understood that this was a good contract for them,” Shimpock said. “All of these companies have increased profits last quarter by at least seven and a half percent, so I do not think that holding the line on their employees’ health care benefits is going to affect their bottom line in any way.”