Washington DC—The announcement of a mutual aid pact among Southern California Grocers—Albertsons (Supervalu), Ralphs (Kroger) and Vons (Safeway)—hastily ended contract talks between the supermarket chains and their employees represented by seven United Food and Commercial Workers Local Unions (UFCW).
“The supermarkets are up to their old tricks,” said UFCW International Vice President and Region 8 Director Shaun Barclay. “This pact fits the same pattern of their actions three years ago when they forced UFCW members and their families into the streets and disrupted shoppers for nearly five months in a grab to end meaningful health care coverage for employees.”
Talks with national supermarket chains had been ongoing in Southern California for nearly three months.
In the meantime, Stater Bros. and Gelson’s—two smaller Southern California regional chains—and the UFCW reached model agreements, providing wage increases, the end to second-class status for new workers and a return to providing affordable, quality health coverage for all employees.
Supervalu, Kroger, and Safeway all enjoy annual sales that are 10 to 20 times bigger than Stater Bros. and Gelson’s. The smaller chains don’t have the economies of scale in their warehousing and distribution networks, nor do they have the clout with major manufacturers and vendors that the national chains command. And they face the same non-union competition in the Southern California market that is overwhelmingly unionized.
“Given that the big grocers say they want to ‘serve the interests of our employees, customers, and companies,’ it’s a no-brainer for these national companies to reach a settlement along the lines of the Stater Bros. and Gelson’s agreements,” said Barclay. “They’re making record profits and hold dominant positions in markets across the country where they operate.”
“But,” he continued, “forming this pact speaks louder than words. It certainly appears that the big grocers have no interest in recognizing UFCW members for their partnership in the impressive success of their companies. It seems they have no interest in the effects their position will have on employees, families, shoppers and communities.”
Approximately 400,000 UFCW members are negotiating contracts with retail food operators in 2007. Most work for Kroger, Safeway or Supervalu. Talks have begun in the Puget Sound area, Eugene, Oregon, Houston, and Toledo, Ohio.
“”UFCW members across the country are tuned in to what’s happening in Southern California. They know everyone, including their customers, has a stake in what happens in these negotiations out here,”” said Barclay.