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Grocery workers ready to strike in southern CA

By Jared Hamil and Marisol Marquez |
August 1, 2019
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UFCW picket line.
UFCW picket line. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Los Angeles, CA - Over 40 supporters picketed outside of Ralphs grocery store on Sunset Boulevard, July 31. The store’s United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike authorization in June.

Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons grocery employees have been without a contract since March of 2019. In March, the corporations wanted to slash checker pay by 25%, eliminate payouts of unpaid sick days, give no overall wage increases, nor contributions to health care and pension plans, among many other unacceptable contract setbacks. Negotiations for 60,000 workers in Southern California are coming to a head and it looks like workers will have to go on strike to get their demands met.

“When 10% of Ralphs employees are homeless, and when 60% of Ralphs employees are working more than one job because of how low wages are, we got a problem,” says Ralphs employee Ryan Oakley. Oakley has been an employee for three years, he started as a cashier, and now works in the meat department. “Even if a Ralphs employee works full time,” continued Oakley, “because our wages are so low, we would only be making $26,000 a year!”

Chanting, “What do you want? A contract! When do you want it? Now!” “If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” “Si se puede!” and “We’ll be back!” the picketers sent a delegation into the store to hand-deliver a signed letter by all who participated in the picket. The letter urged supervisors at the Sunset Boulevard Ralphs to support a fair contract.

Ralphs is one of the largest grocery chains mainly located in Southern California. It is owned by Krogers, which is the largest grocery chain in the United States. Albertsons, which owns Vons, is the second largest grocery chain in the United States. Both Albertsons and Krogers are among the largest corporations in the country, and collectively represent about 40% of the grocery market in Southern California. While these companies get richer, workers are forced to work for lower wages.

This is not the first time these corporate giants have tried to cut employees’ wages and benefits. In October 2003, workers at these chains went on strike to stop the cut-backs. Workers were eventually locked out, and the strike lasted four months. Wages were cut and a two-tier system was put in place for new hires. The 2003 strike was the largest and longest grocery worker strike in U.S. history. It cost the companies over $1.5 billion. Without the strike, these corporate giants would have gotten away with shamelessly robbing employees.

In early July, over 10,000 supporters took to multiple Ralphs locations and began fighting back. Their demands included proposals to increase minimum hour guarantees, stop the two-tier system, and protect employee schedules. These demonstrations forced Ralph’s corporate owners to withdraw their efforts to slash checker pay as well as bring back payouts for unpaid sick days.

UFCW and the companies are at the negotiating table July 30 through August 1. Along with a better contract, the workers need support.

UFCW employees are asking people not to shop at any Ralphs, Vons, or Albertsons if they go on strike. If customers currently shop at any of these grocery stores, picketers are asking these customers to look at the bottom of their receipts. At the bottom of the receipt are both the phone number to the store as well as the name of the store’s supervisors. Supporters are being asked to organize call-ins demanding each supervisor support a fair contract, and to remind supervisors that they will not cross the picket line if the employees go on strike. If supporters attend a UFCW event, they are given reusable grocery bags with the words, “Support grocery workers! Hard work, fair pay!” Other ways to support are to attend pickets happening all around Southern California or visit http://hardworkfairpay.org for more information.

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